UI's $48 million Siebel Center for Design beginning to take shape


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After nearly 10 years of planning, the University of Illinois Siebel Center for Design is starting to take shape.

Crews are setting the foundation for the new building on Fourth Street, just south of Huff Hall, and structural steel is being delivered later this month.

"We should start seeing the structure coming to life this summer," Director Rachel Switzky said Tuesday. "It's exciting."

By this time next year, the building should be substantially completed, followed by a summer move-in and a grand opening planned for fall 2020, Switzky said.

The $48 million center is envisioned as a place where students from across campus can come together to work on groundbreaking projects to solve real-world problems — from new mobile phones to clean water delivery systems.

The project was first announced in late 2015 but had been in the works since 2009.

The Thomas and Stacey Siebel Foundation contributed $25 million in October 2016, and the hope then was that the building could open in early 2019.

But a summer 2017 groundbreaking was pushed back until last April, shortly after Switzky was hired as the center's first permanent director. The UI graduate formerly worked at the design firm IDEO.

Construction started in earnest in October, once all the contracts were signed, and the completion date was set for January 2020. But extreme cold this winter and other weather delays have pushed that back a bit, Switzky said.

It's been "a rough winter and spring for construction projects, with many days of concrete work lost due to snows and rains," said Kevin Price, project manager for UI Capital Programs.

While the project budget and general layout of the building are unchanged, Switzky has tweaked the design since taking over as director, putting less emphasis on the technology side and more on "creating a welcoming environment." She chose furniture that was "softer and more playful" than the original plan envisioned, for example, to keep it "human-centered."

And while the 60,000-square-foot building will still include collaboration studios, workshops with 3-D printers and digital media studios, she's cut back some of the specialized, higher-end equipment that could only be used by students with technical expertise.

"This is a center for everyone on campus and beyond," Switzky said. "We wanted it to be much more approachable."

Switzky and others are also creating a network of all the "maker spaces" across campus, from business to fine arts to engineering, so if students need specialized equipment they know where to find it.

Besides planning the new building, Switzky has also been working with faculty over the past year to launch new courses and other programs to infuse design thinking and innovation across campus.

"What I'm doing at the university does not have to exist within the building's walls," she said in a News-Gazette Media podcast interview earlier this year.


Julie Wurth is a reporter covering the University of Illinois at The News-Gazette. Her email is jwurth@news-gazette.com, and you can follow her on Twitter (@jawurth).