Electrical and Computer Engineering Building Opens at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Electrical and Computer Engineering Building Opens at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

The recently completed $95 million Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) Building at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has opened for the 2014-2015 school year. SmithGroup served as design architect, lab planner, structural engineer and landscape architect.

As the new, 230,000-square-foot ECE Building begins operations, the University is targeting the highest level of sustainability: Net Zero Energy, meaning the building aims to produce as much energy as it uses.

Completing the north engineering campus quadrangle, the expansive five-story building consolidates the university’s nationally ranked Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, which had been housed for more than 60 years at the circa-1948 Everitt Laboratory. The new building provides 45 instructional and research labs, 48 private faculty offices and 280 graduate student workstations. Among its most noteworthy spaces are a 4,000-square-foot instructional clean room; a 400-seat auditorium, now one of the largest gathering spaces on campus; a unique, open projects laboratory; and a variety of areas for student study and collaboration.

Keeping with ECE Illinois’ dedication to pushing the limits of technical innovation, energy efficiency was not only a priority, but a driver for the project. The ECE building will use 50% less energy than the minimum building energy efficiency standards established in ASHRAE 90.1-2007 – an exceptional achievement considering the energy-intensive nature of a laboratory building with an instructional clean room. Solar array designs are planned to support the remaining energy consumption. In addition to aspiring to a Net Zero Energy rating, the project is targeting LEED Platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

"Our goal was to deliver a building that represents the stature of this world-renowned department, positioning its students and researchers at the forefront of emerging technology,” said SmithGroup Project Manager Carolina Lopez, AIA, LEED AP BD+C. “With the department having worked out of the same building for 60 years, this new, advanced facility provides no limit to what ECE students can now achieve.”

SmithGroup’s design significantly optimizes the building’s energy efficiency. The project’s sustainable design features include:

  • An enhanced exterior envelope with a three-story solar canopy featuring angled louvers and solar screens to mitigate solar heat gain while maintaining views to the outside
  • A high-performance, terra cotta rainscreen system cladding 70% of the building envelope, with double paned, ultra-clear glass making up the remaining 30%
  • A chilled beam system for cooling of the classrooms, offices, labs and corridors
  • Displacement ventilation in the lobby and large auditorium
  • Heat recovery chillers with net metering
  • High performance LED lighting, along with reduced light levels and lighting controls

KJWW, Rock Island, Illinois, served as mechanical engineer for the project.

Numerous renewable energy strategies will join the building’s high level of energy efficiency. When fully installed, a 300-kW photovoltaic array will occupy the building’s entire 42,000-square-foot roof and generate 11% of the building’s energy needs. Simultaneously, direct access to the photovoltaics will provide students and faculty with hands-on research experience. A much larger 1.2 MW photovoltaic array to be constructed above the roof of the nearby north campus parking structure will significantly supplement the energy harvested atop the ECE Building and complete the net zero strategy.

According to ECE Professor Philip Krein, the renewable energy strategies are projected to allow the building to supply 100% of its energy demands over each year -- a major accomplishment given the building’s large size and clean room, and among the three largest net-zero building projects in the United States today. Faculty and students will examine, evaluate and adjust their behavior to optimize the building’s energy use.

The project’s total cost of $95 million includes construction, furnishing, lab outfitting, and all initial operating expenses. The university received $47.5 million in funding from the State of Illinois Capital Development Board, and raised the balance in the form of private and corporate support. The prime construction contractor was Peoria, Illinois-based Williams Brothers Construction, Inc.

The Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (ECE ILLINOIS) has 2,000 undergraduates, 500 graduate students and more than 100 faculty. US News & World Report ranks ECE ILLINOIS as one of the Top Five programs in the U.S. for undergraduate and graduate study of electrical and computer engineering. Located on the 785-acre Urbana-Champaign campus in east-central Illinois, the new ECE Building establishes a sustainability prototype for future University of Illinois projects and advances a campus-wide initiative to reach carbon neutrality by 2050.

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