Turner Hall modernization showcases University of Illinois’ College of ACES
Renovation and expansion of 55-year-old Turner Hall created more student gathering areas for the University of Illinois’ College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign wanted to update Turner Hall to support the growing enrollment and technology needs of the university’s College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES). At 55 years old, the facility was small and dark—it had long, tight corridors and low ceilings. In some lecture halls, seats were close together; it might have seemed that students touched shoulders. Various areas of the building were uncomfortable, crowded, and in desperate need of a functional and aesthetic uplift. Moreover, the college was looking to create additional spaces for students to gather, innovate, and share beyond classrooms.
Turner Hall also suffered from an image problem: despite its location on the campus’s busy South Quad, the building was often overlooked, mostly because its main entrance was understated in an adjacent courtyard.
Today, in place of the old courtyard, a two-story glass entrance rises to not only showcase Turner Hall’s presence on the quad, but also connect the facility’s eastern and western halves. Students enter a light-filled atrium buzzing with activity in gathering areas, a gallery space, and a lounge. Corridor glass partitions invite passersby to explore vibrant classrooms, labs, and offices equipped with modern technologies. Throughout the facility, the design pays tribute to the College of ACES’ research and programs of study.
The additions and renovations, designed by Legat Architects and built by Grunloh Construction, were split into two phases to minimize inconveniences to students and staff during construction.
Phase 1: New Atrium and Annex Renovation
Initially, the university hired Legat for interior renovations. However, University of Illinois grad and Legat principal Alan F. Bombick (1955 – 2016) pointed out the benefits of infilling the courtyard to redefine the entry sequence. At the first conceptual design meeting, Bombick and his team brought out sketches and university representatives were on board.
The atrium protrudes from the facility and unites the building’s two wings: the original 1961 building on the south and a 1978 addition on the north. The atrium not only adds much-needed student gathering areas, but the space also accommodates ACES events.
Phase 1 also includes the renovation of the 1978 one-story annex. Before, its lounge was in a small enclosed space whose corridor glass overlooked the inconspicuous courtyard. The renovation removes the glass, injects the space with bright colors and welcoming furniture, and extends the lounge into the atrium. Additional work in the annex includes the transformation of offices and storage areas into student study spaces.
Phase 2: Lab, Classroom, and Corridor Upgrades
Phase 2 renews spaces to make them roomier, livelier, and more compatible with current technologies. It also keeps views open with more internal windows.
In the basement, the old environmental studies lab had built-in projection screens and projectors that used a dated slide projector. Fixed tables and casework limited flexibility, while a partition prevented students in the hall from seeing into the lab.
Today, a large corridor window displays a much cleaner, more spacious lab in which classes can easily reconfigure furniture. The makeover removes all the center casework and screens, as well as a stage from which the professor taught. Teaching walls have new custom casework for microscopes and ceiling-mounted monitors show details of what’s under the microscope. There’s even a backpack storage area behind the teaching station, so the lab remains clutter-free during class.
Glass replaces the wall between the main lab and the prep lab, which was expanded into a previous storage room location. The renewed prep lab has a fume hood, autoclave for chemical reactions, storage racks, and movable worktables.
The project joins two tiered lecture halls to create one large educational space and a student lounge. The changes eliminate restrictive concrete risers, make space for ADA-accessible tables and chairs, and add a window to the outside.
Additional phase 2 improvements include the following:
- Updates improve technologies in all classrooms, labs, and conference rooms on the first and second floors.
- New gathering areas on the first floor give students a place to wait for classes or work on group projects.
- Glass partitions within corridors invite passersby to explore lab activities.
- A chilled beam HVAC system and perimeter heat enhance energy efficiency.
One of the atrium’s most notable design features is its ceiling—the curved shape, inspired by the corn leaves that the design team studied, catches light through high clerestory windows and reflects it into the atrium to give it what project manager Michael Lundeen calls “a light, summery feel all year round.” On some mornings, the ceiling creates a prismatic effect with a rainbow of colors on the floor.
This is one of several examples of how the design team integrated an agricultural theme into the design. Interior designers also specified a “harvest” color scheme that appears in everything from the sunset-inspired carpet to the wood slat ceilings.
Interior designer Sylvia Kowalk said, “We relied on blues, oranges, and tans while avoiding hard lines so that there is a lot of blending like in nature.”
Spotlight on ACES
The Turner Hall modernizations inject new life into educational and research spaces and offer many more areas for students to gather, all while training the spotlight on ACES programs.
“Before the renovations, the spaces had little personality and there were few options for students to assemble,” said Kowalk. “Now, Turner Hall offers students many collaborative spaces that celebrate their field of study. The internal glass makes a big difference, too—you don’t want to hide all that knowledge; you want to spread it.”
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