View our entire construction photo gallery to follow the ECE ILLINOIS Building progress.
The new building will be home to faculty and students alike. The latter have mentioned five new features that they are especially excited to see. We spoke with Nikita Parikh, co-chair of ECESAC (ECE Student Advancement Committee); Tyler Hansen, freshman representative of ECESAC; Johnny Duan, sophomore representative of ECESAC; and Liana Nicklaus, president of HKN.
One of the elements of the new building that students find most apparent and important is its energy-efficiency plan and net-zero goal. The students see these plans as representative of the accomplishments of the department.
“I think it’s absolutely fitting that the students and professors who have done significant work on energy-efficient electronics are able to see state-of-the-art technology in their field in action every day,” Duan said.
Several of the students highlighted the ethical necessity of pushing energy-efficiency, including Hansen.
“This building is a symbol for the university’s pursuit of a greener and more environmentally friendly atmosphere,” Hansen said. The students expressed their pride in their university for being at the cutting edge of energy-efficiency.
Proximity to ECE researchers
After learning that Champaign-Urbana MTD will help with transportation from across campus to the new building, the students expressed excitement for the new opportunities made possible by the ECE building’s location.
Duan noted that ECE’s new neighbors – the Beckman Institute, the Coordinated Science Laboratory, and the Micro and Nanotechnology Laboratory – are home to some of ECE’s critical research.
“I think the proximity to some of the world’s most prominent researchers is incredibly valuable,” Nicklaus said. “It will make it easier than ever for undergraduates to get involved in research, and form connections with professors and graduate students.”
Currently, ECE student organizations have less-than-ideal spaces in Everitt Laboratory. Because of space restraints, they are scattered across the building in inconvenient and relatively small rooms. The new building will dedicate student organization spaces designed to improve student communication.
“Having a shared space next year will be a good change because it will let us interact more frequently and easily with members of other student groups,” Parikh said, as interaction is an important component to enhance the ECE student experience.
The student spaces will be located centrally in the building, adjacent to a café off the main lobby. In addition to this student organization space, students will have lounges and seating throughout the building where they can meet, relax, and study between classes.
Laboratories provide students with essential opportunities for hands-on learning, and ECE understands the importance of those opportunities. The new building will house expanded and enhanced labs.
“I look forward to the increased lab space for projects and classes,” Hansen said. “Many of the lab facilities in Everitt Lab are cramped, and that makes it difficult to get enough lab time to complete projects efficiently.”
The labs in the new building will be conducive to student learning, and they will allow students to pursue both course-driven and independent projects. These labs include the ECE 110 Lab, the Nano Lab, Control Systems Lab, the Optics Advanced Systems Lab, the Srivastava Senior Design Lab, and the Open Projects Lab.
Auditoriums and spaces for ECE events
A vast improvement over the current auditorium in Everitt Laboratory, the auditorium in the new building will be larger and better structured – for example, it will be free of vision-obstructing pillars that can be found in the Everitt auditorium.
“The new auditorium will be large enough to comfortably host events,” Hansen said, from freshman welcome events to research presentations.
Additionally, other aspects of the building’s design – such as the grand entrance on its east side – will create further space for ECE to host events, Nicklaus said.
“One of the best aspects of ECE Illinois is the networking and professional opportunities brought to us by the department’s connections in the corporate world,” she said. “The new building will provide a great venue for alumni, recruiters, and students to interact.”
It may be difficult to imagine now, as winter approaches and construction continues on the ECE building, but before long there will be a garden to welcome students to ECE’s new home. This garden will be composed primarily of native plants and others that are adaptable to the region, so that it will be able to sustain itself without an irrigation system. In order to better understand how the garden will contribute to the building experience, we spoke with Marisa Dittman, a landscape architect with SmithGroupJJR, who has been involved with the project since the design development stage.
The prudent use of plants that do not require an irrigation system means the garden will bear no financial or energy-using burden on the building. Beyond that, the garden is actually beneficial to the building for purposes of stormwater collection. Dittman said, “It’s collecting storm water in the landscape bed, so it’s serving its purpose from a stormwater standpoint. We’re capturing some of the water with the plant material and then releasing it back into the atmosphere.” Any stormwater that cannot be captured and used by the plant material will be collected in the infiltration trench running the perimeter of the building beneath each landscape area.
Aesthetically, the different faces of the building will take on individual garden styles. Particularly of note is the south side. As mentioned in previous net-zero energy blog posts, the south side of the building consists almost entirely of windows to let in the sun. This means there will be indoor-outdoor views, so special care has been taken in the style of this side of the garden, which is intended to represent a flowing stylized prairie as opposed to the formal appearance of the remaining garden spaces surrounding the building. “When you’re looking in that area you’re going to see more native grasses, shrubs, trees,” said Dittman. Students in the main south corridor will have a great view of this section of the garden. The plant material chosen for the other sides of the building were chosen to create a cohesive aesthetic experience for the ECE building and for the quad as a whole.
To tie the garden to the rest of the building experience for students, the garden will be integrated with walkways and seating areas. A dry riverbed will allow limited entry into the south garden, providing students with an ideal environment to relax between classes. Seating areas will be located at each of the major building entries and on the walkways within the south and east garden areas. In the south garden, seating will be comprised of limestone outcropping that will tie into the aesthetic of the dry riverbed.
The garden will be planted next year, when the building is closer to completion and the stormwater infiltration trench has been installed. Much of the plant material will be installed at a reasonable size, but in general the plant material may not aesthetically appear to fill in until after the first growing season.
In 1950, ECE faculty established the Gaseous Electronics Laboratory, now known as the Laboratory for Optical Physics and Engineering (LOPE). The laboratory is committed to the pursuit of new and efficient sources of visible, ultraviolet, and vacuum ultraviolet radiation. Since 1962, LOPE has been located in its own building near the corner of Wright and Healey streets in Champaign. The building was not intended to last this long. On the laboratory’s current location, ECE Professor Gary Eden said, “It’s a building that, because of its age, is not well-suited for doing experiments with the very sophisticated optical equipment that we have.” The current building has several drawbacks. “The heating ventilation and air condition system was not designed to control humidity, for example, or even temperature.” In order to ensure a tightly controlled environment, then, Eden had to be creative. “If you go to the laboratory today, you’ll find that there are cleanrooms that I have had to have constructed in California, shipped here and assembled inside the building. So I have a building within a building.” In order to provide LOPE with the resources and environment it needs, the laboratory will join ECE in the new building when it opens next fall.
LOPE’s space in the new ECE building will be much higher quality. “It will be nice to be located in a facility where the humidity and the temperature are better controlled, and the filtration is such that you’re not getting fine particles ejected into the room,” said Eden. While he and his colleagues are sentimental about their current building due to the laboratory’s long history there, the benefits to moving are numerous. The placement of the laboratory in the building was well planned by the building designers and Professor Phil Krein, the chair of the new building committee. “We’re slated to occupy the lowest level in the new building. It’s closer to the foundation, and of course we do optical experiments and they benefit from or require stability, that you get as little vibration from passing traffic as possible.” This is one of the ways that the new building will be a significant improvement over LOPE’s current location. Eden explained, “What really is important is when you have a facility that permits you to do something you couldn’t do before, or it allows you to do something much more efficiently or quickly. And both of those are true.”
Another significant benefit will be LOPE’s new proximity to many buildings and departments that LOPE professors and researchers interact with. Especially advantageous is being in the same building as ECE. When speaking of LOPE’s current distance from ECE, Eden said, “There’s a very distinct drawback to having one’s colleagues scattered all over campus.” With the consolidation of ECE and LOPE in the new ECE building, the opportunity for cooperation between faculty will be substantial. “It’s going to be wonderful to go up a floor or two, or just down the hallway, and be able to annoy a colleague with a silly question or discuss something that may be of mutual interest,” said Eden. Often, good ideas come out of these conversations that either professor would not have thought of on his or her own. “Collaborations are extremely important,” he continued, noting that between all of the faculty who will be housed in the new ECE building, “the synergies are potentially enormous.”
Eden is deeply grateful to alumni and everyone who has committed to the new building project so far. “I hope they’ll come back to campus, that they’ll visit us. So we can express our thanks, and that they can see first-hand the difference that it’s made.”