The Beauty and the Beast

Over the weekend I had a chance to return to Champaign.  It was my first trip back since July and in the interim the College of Business Instructional Facility was completed and actually had its “grand opening” on the Friday I was there.  Also the McFarland Memorial Bell Tower is well underway.  You can find previous posts about both the projects here.  Here’s an update on both.
One is a beauty the other a beast.

The Business Instructional Facility hugs the corner of Sixth and Gregory and its massing echoes that of Wohlers Hall across Sixth Street.  While I’m not entirely in love with the buildings exterior articulation, the interior (the atrium in particular) is quite stunning.  Warm and inviting it seems like the perfect place to study business (wait, who am I kidding- business?!).  A large 4-story window wall allows filtered south light into the large space.  The building is U-shaped in plan allowing the atrium to open to a large landscaped courtyard.  This space is neither too large nor too small.  It has great proportions.

There’s no doubt its a business buildings considering it has the finest materials available.  Some may argue it risks being sterile but the warms woods and soft hues are very soothing.  I’m not sure of all the stats and facts but I’m willing to bet its one of the most technologically advanced university buildings throughout the country.  The atrium boasts huge touch screen monitors while the classrooms and lecture spaces have all the latest smart techonology.

Mostly orthogonal is plan, the southwest corner of the building features a circular lecture hall.  In plan it doesn’t work particularly well with the rest of the design, but its a totally different experience while in the space.  The space is sunk into the ground and a small band of windows steps down to allow in some natural light.  The materials echo those used throughout the rest of the building.  For a campus known for specatularly crappy lecture halls, this is a gem.  They even left enough space in the rows so that seated students don’t have to move to allow another to pass.

They did a nice job with the details too.  Be sure to check out the light fixtures and connection details.  Photos below.

So while the Business Instructional Facility is an undeniable success (even coming very close to budget and schedule) the McFarland Memorial Bell Tower is a total failure.  I can tell you this and its still about a month from completion.  For starters, the aesthetics of the Tower are inappropriate.  But totally ignoring that factor, the Tower is completely out of scale in its setting (I know what you’re thinking- it’s a tower).  Located on the South Quad in very close proximity to Mumford House it completely drowns out the surrounding buildings (Temple Hoyne Buell Hall and Ag Engineering Sciences) as well as erases the Stock Pavilion as the terminus of the South Quad.  And mind you the Stock Pavilion is an awesome building.

And while plenty of structures through out time immemorial have been and are phallic in nature, the McFarland Memorial Bell Tower may take the cake- especially when viewed from the east or west.  There is nothing positive I can say about this structure.  Its siting, design, aesthetics- everything about it- is inappropriate.  Its an unfortunate (and expensive) blight on a quite formal and beautiful campus.  You got this one wrong Illinois.

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