The Big 10 with Jeff D'Alessio, June 17, 2018


The Big 10 with Jeff D'Alessio, June 17, 2018

With so much recent buzz about historic buildings — Burnham Mansion, Bresee Tower, PNC's downtown home — we asked area architects: What's the one local structure you didn't have a hand in creating but can't get enough of?

Urbana architect

He picks: State Farm Center.

Why it? "I grew up in the area and am a graduate of the University of Illinois, and the building made a distinct impression on me when I first saw it as a child. If a goal of architecture is to be at once bold, iconic and unforgettable, this building succeeds in that end. It stands as a modern day Colosseum, a pure and sublime expression of structure.

"The State Farm Center was designed by architect and alumnus Max Abramovitz, who is also responsible for another local landmark — the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts. The edifice is primarily concrete, with the enormous dome made seemingly light due to hundreds of miles of tensioned steel. The entry sequence is processional, almost ritualistic. A thin glass membrane separates the inside from outside while the massive dome looms overhead. Once inside, a grand volume of space reveals itself creating a sacred atmosphere.

"Already 55 years old, I hope that it serves the university many more years. Its historic significance and self-contained radial symmetry should make it somewhat immune from any demolition or misdirected renovation attempts. It is not only a local symbol, but serves as an ambassador to visitors."

Andrew Fell Architecture and Design, Champaign

He picks: The Jack Baker-designed Erlanger House on Indiana Street in Urbana.

Why it? "It is very simple — even stark — but the cleanest, most purely beautiful and captivating environment I have personally experienced. It is purposeful in its simplicity and has a scale that is at once both monumental and very human. In architecture, I believe this is the most difficult juxtaposition to execute effectively.

"Additionally, there is the pure anomaly of its outwardly utilitarian appearance in contrast with the open- and light-filled interior. From the street, it is a symmetrical plain brick cube flanked by vertical glass ribbons set on a raised plane of lawn, giving no real hint of what you will discover inside. Even the door is not obvious.

"If you've never been there, you are certain you are about to set foot into a cavernous dungeon of a space, but the reality is something altogether the opposite. Inside the door is a warm, serene space where you can easily imagine the experience of watching a dance performance set against the backdrop of the entire glass wall facing the courtyard.

"Much of the beauty stems from the simplicity of form and material. I can hardly imagine how peaceful it would have been to have lived there."

Reifsteck Reid & Co. Architects, Champaign

He picks: The late, great Bache Memorial Chapel.

Why it? "Unfortunately, it was demolished several years ago. The chapel was a concrete, modern structure adjacent to a cemetery west of Tuscola on Route 36. It was sited off the highway a few hundred feet and its reflection was mirrored in a small adjacent pond.

"I think it was the first building I visited that wasn't traditional in character, but it still evoked the emotion of a chapel. It had steep roofs and a tower, a metal roof and heavy concrete walls. It also seemed that its form derived from the cemetery monuments nearby.

"I visited this building when I was in high school and had already started thinking about being an architect. I believe the way it made me feel on that visit confirmed my career direction."

UI Professor of Landscape Architecture

She picks: The Mumford House, constructed on campus in 1870.

Why it? "It is a pokey little farmhouse, quite ordinary, and it doesn't even stand in its original spot, I believe. But located where it is now, at the edge of the south Quad, and looking as humble as it does — indeed, somewhat dilapidated — it is a reminder of the university's mission: while we aspire to great ideas, deep humanistic insights and innovative technologies, we are also here to teach.

"The Mumford House is made of inexpensive wooden clapboard, like many houses of its time, and stands in stark contrast to the large brick buildings around it.

"Its simple presence reminds us of our land grant origins and the ordinary but essential task of teaching. And its shabby condition is a reminder of how our state politicians, despite themselves having been the beneficiary of college and university educations, seem less and less willing to invest in the university and the collective future of our youth."

Interim director, UI School of Architecture

He picks: Hessel Park Christian Reformed Church, designed by Jack Baker and Mike Andrejasich.

Why it? "It is the superb integration of economy and quality. It has well-studied proportions, and a rich, light-filled interior. But it is also constructed of very humble materials — vinyl siding, concrete floor, drywall.

"Then, of course, there is the brilliant gesture of visually welcoming the community inside by glazing the street facade. Every time I pass it or visit it, I am amazed at how spatially perfect it is."