INTERACT. CREATE. IDEATE
With its cantilevered roof and pale façade, the new Siebel Center for Design has settled onto Fourth Street like a spaceship from a faraway planet. Inside the $40 million facility, a huge mural of U of I innovations projects holographic tendrils bearing names and dates and achievements, so that visitors walking past the mural are walking through Illinois tech history. Sky tubes douse the place in sunlight, clouds scudding from porthole to porthole. There are floors made of blond boards and floors made of gray concrete. Long, straight sweeps of ramp descend to a lower level and rise to an upper gallery, where a two-story wall of glass gazes out onto the new Creative Quad and beyond to the Krannert Art Museum and the McFarland Bell Tower. The tower, a brick and metal framework with a pointed crown, bores into the sky like an enormous robotic augur from the sci-fi future—a future that Siebel Center will help to create.
The building, known as SCD, landed amidst an existing array of the University’s collaborative spaces where a world of things are made—from masks to medical devices to molecules—by units ranging from architecture, engineering and business to veterinary medicine and the University Library. SCD is now the entity furthest forward in this evolution at Illinois, with a purpose as visionary as its architecture— to impel students and faculty from across the University to transform the future.
Design thinking is the template for the Center’s work, a movement that addresses product creation and technical, scientific and social challenges through group work that incorporates the needs of stakeholders. Programs, centers and schools devoted to design thinking have evolved around the nation, but what makes SCD different is the scope and audacity of its mission. It is the first design center built from the ground up as a multidisciplinary attractor for smart people to come together and address questions for which the world demands answers.
SCD is full of stop-offs that inspire thinking and tools to make ideas real. Comfy captain’s chairs, seductive settees and high metal tables rimmed with tall stools beckon visitors to sit and muse or create in comfort. Conference rooms of various sizes co-exist with wheeled cabanas for mini-meetings and solo compartments enclosed by sea-glass green doors. Classrooms equipped with high-end audio, video and computer technology merge into a lecture hall. A recording studio boasts green-screen and virtual reality capabilities.
A little amphitheater sits at the bottom of a gangway. Lockers offer space to store things made in the expansive workshop, which has tools big and small, simple and sophisticated. A large-for mat printer produces maps, posters and scale drawings. 3D printers run out solid objects in a wide range of materials. A water-jet cutter carves with precision. A garage space allows students to work on the next generation of automotive technology, providing a home for the University’s ongoing tradition of creating the car of the future.
There are laser engravers. Lathes. Woodworking tools. Sewing machines. Video and audio recorders. Post-it Notes and Sharpies. And a seemingly endless expanse of whiteboards. Small and huge, fixed and moveable, the whiteboards are everywhere.
WRITING THE FUTURE
Since opening in August, the center has hummed with activity. The ubiquitous whiteboards, some of them encompassing entire walls, change daily. Colorful scrawls roam from group-project Q+As to massive quotes, such as Sigmund Freud’s observation that “The dream is the liberation of the spirit from the pressure of external nature.” Rachel Switzky, CAN ’93FAA, MFA ’98, SCD’s inaugural director, regularly peruses the whiteboards to better understand who’s coming to the Center and why. Seeing SCD as a creative nexus for the mind of the University, she aims to win more and more students and faculty to the cause of design thinking through courses, programming and research. “The building is a physical manifestation of what we can accomplish, but I see the initiative going far across campus,” she muses. “The University is always going to push us to be further and further out.”
Provost Andres Cangellaris envisions SCD as the engine for a coming trans formation of the University, by engaging “hundreds of faculty and thousands—tens of thousands—of students in a process through which big challenges can be addressed, such as socio-economic problems, sustainability, the environment, poverty and food insecurity.” A native of Greece, Cangellaris compares SCD to the agorae (public spaces) of classical times—“marketplaces where people gathered, debated and created.” With its welcoming rooms, fantastically equipped work spaces, connectivity to the world and academic community second to none, SCD promises an agora with cut ting-edge resources. And whiteboards on which the future will be written.