In some ways, completing the new ECE Building and populating a circuit board are rather alike. Both require the right components in the proper orientation. For the circuit board, these components include microprocessors, capacitors, micromachined sensors, and the like. For the new ECE building, they include the people who joined the department in the building campaign, offering financial support.
To recognize those donors in perpetuity, an art installation has been mounted between the lobby and the first-floor lecture halls. It resembles a wall-sized circuit board, measuring more than 18 feet long and 8 feet tall. The center features the motto, “Imagine. Built. Lead,” thoughts that have echoed through the building campaign. Around it are the names of major supporters.
“The reason we used the circuit-board design is, we thought of the donors as components,” said J. Todd Hearn, the university graphic designer who, along with Brandon Christie at Dean’s Graphics, conceptualized the donor wall. “When we came up with the circuit board, it was just, ‘Ah ha!’”
The wall has been designed in two layers. The background is the enlarged circuit board, with copper film on rectangular tiles of acrylic glass. The outer layer, elevated on aluminum standoffs, uses congruent rectangles, also in clear acrylic, which offer a clear view of the circuit pattern beneath. Interspersed within these are frosted rectangles with the names of the donors written in raised bronze lettering.
“Alumni and friends have played an essential role in ensuring that the new ECE Building is a state-of-the-art reality,” said Steven George, the senior director of advancement at ECE ILLINOIS. “We couldn’t have accomplished such an ambitious project—complete with net-zero energy features—without their support.”
The cost for the building, including furnishings and lab equipment, amounts to $95 million. Half of the funding came from the State of Illinois, while the other half has come from individual and corporate supporters. Already, the building is proving to be an academic and social hub for students, with new features ranging from a host of instructional labs lab to ample collaboration spaces.
The copper on the wall was fabricated using a die-cutter, which punches out the pieces using a custom-made blade, rather like an automated, super-sized cookie cutter. The pattern is based on a section of an actual circuit board designed by Skot Wiedmann, an instrument and measurement technician in ECE’s Electronics Services Shop. He used the board in an audio processing unit for electronic music, which he designed as a graduate student.
“I do try to approach these designs as both and artist and an engineer, so the aesthetics are important to me,” Weidmann said. “I actually still use [the processing unit] occasionally.”
According to Hearn, this donor recognition design may be the first of its kind. Neither he nor Christie had seen a wall-sized circuit board like this, and they were particularly pleased with the idea of using copper in the design. Not only is the building a vanguard accomplishment, but even this donor recognition wall is an innovation.
“Illinois always likes to be the first,” Hearn said.