2017: Sesquicentennial Design Competition 

During the past 150 years, scholars, researchers, and teachers at the University of Illinois have made major discoveries, produced innovations, and engaged beyond our campus in ways that have transformed experience and understanding of the world. From the development of the first web browser, to the discovery of a third form of life, to pioneering triumphs in women’s education, to bold moves for wheelchair accessibility, the University of Illinois has been an engine of innovation and impact.

To help visualize and interpret our most important accomplishments, the Sesquicentennial Design Competition—an initiative supported by Chancellor Robert J. Jones—challenged interdisciplinary teams of students to design campus installations that communicate essential information about those achievements.

Teams of up to 5 students collaborated for 8 weeks during the second half of the spring 2017 semester, with coordination by Prof. Jessica Henson. Teams could include students from any discipline at the university—from the arts and humanities to the sciences, engineering, education, business, law, and more—but members were required to come from at least two different academic disciplines. Participants also had the option to register for 2 hours of course credit.

Proposals were presented to an expert jury on the morning of Sasaki Day—May 3, 2017. Each member of the wining team was awarded $500. 

Organizational Meeting: Monday, March 13, 2017
6:00pm to 8:00pm, 219 Temple Buell Hall (611 E. Lorado Taft Drive, Champaign)

Juried Competition: Wednesday, May 3, 2017
10:45am to 12:00pm, Temple Buell Hall (611 E. Lorado Taft Drive, Champaign)
Winner announced: 1:00pm

To learn more, visit the Sesquicentennial Design Competition page on Facebook. 




MARCH 13-15, 2016

Founded in 1867, the University will celebrate its sesquicentennial anniversary in 2017. This occasion presents an opportunity to reflect on how the campus has evolved during the past 150 years and to imagine how it might transform in response to our changing world.

The coming 50 years will be a period of profound transition in higher education and urban design. The challenge of this charrette is to grapple with some of the likely changes and to create a flexible design or framework that responds to the significant metamorphoses taking place on our campus, in the surrounding community and region, and across the globe.


Team proposals will respond to the following propositions through drawings, diagrams, text narrative, video, and/or models.

CARBON: By 2050 (but perhaps as early as 2035), we will use a variety of strategies identified in the Illinois Carbon Action Plan to become a carbon-neutral campus. You can see a summary of the plan here.

AUTOMOBILES: By 2035, driverless cars and apps like Uber will make owning a car nearly untenable. With these changes in technology, we expect to be able to convert 95% of all campus and street parking spaces to other uses.

WATER: By 2050, we will treat rainwater like a precious resource and will reduce our use of potable water by 60%.

BUILDINGS: We will maintain or reduce the campus gross square feet of built space relative to the FY 2010 baseline.

TECHNOLOGY: Given the pace of change regarding how instruction is delivered, it is hard to guess how classrooms will be configured in 50 years. It is also hard to imagine the impact of newly developed technology on how students live on campus, or how any of us might want to use offices, studio spaces, laboratories, or libraries. A new masterplan will need to be flexible enough to anticipate major transformations in instructional technology.




MARCH 30-31, 2015

Champaign, Illinois – originally called West Urbana – began as a railroad town. The configuration of the city’s fabric was first influenced by the physical orientation of the rail line. As the city grew, rail infrastructure interrupted a more consistent urban pattern. Now, the corridor influences the ways inhabitants perceive and negotiate their environment. Land adjacent to the railroad exists as a series of virtually contiguous territories that remain largely ambiguous in terms of ownership, land use, contamination, and public accessibility. This charrette is an opportunity to re-examine the impact of the railroad infrastructure on Champaign’s urban landscape with an approach that will allow for an interesting and provocative new set of events and spaces along the rail line – a new resource that potentially catalyzes unanticipated relationships along, through, and to the corridor.

The proposed site is an aggregated territory of all underutilized land adjacent to the rail corridor between Green Street on the south, to the Olympia Drive extension project on the north, with special emphasis on the complex of railroad terminal buildings in downtown Champaign. A pattern of disorganized development along the rail corridor has resulted in a broken geometry in an otherwise coherent fabric and blighted leftover spaces and industrial parcels that are inaccessible to most of the community. The corridor divides commercial, residential, and light industrial areas. At the downtown scale, the long tenure of passenger rail in the city combined with shifting municipal priorities has resulted in a series of three railways stations, one in active use for buses and trains, another partially converted to commercial use, and the third empty. These structures and their associated empty parcels represent enormous unrealized potential for contributing to a more vital downtown district.


The teams responded to the following propositions through drawings, diagrams, text narrative, and models.

SPACE: consider the corridor sites as one project, while also creating identifiable spaces within and along the corridor, to consider the rail as unifying stitch, theme, or event for the two ‘halves’ east and west of the corridor.

EVENT: allow for and enable new, and unconventional programming; perhaps due to the proximity to the rail infrastructure, allow for the permitting of otherwise cacophonous or lively activities, and to foreground the activities along the length of the rail: the trains as events themselves.

ACCESS: consider the system of spaces a dynamic set of urban access points and passageways, to provide a kinetic geometry that resolves many of the current impasses in this area, including linking sites and neighborhoods east and west across this terrain.

STATION: consider the station itself as the central hub for this aggregated project site, to consider its role in both gathering and disseminating information, coordination, events scheduling, and/or other venues or organizations that provide a central ground for the various sites that make up the larger site.

PUBLIC/PRIVATE: consider how the interests of public and private land owners could create partnerships that result in mutually beneficial relationships.

EXISTING RESOURCES/MATERIALS: consider how to integrate existing materials or structures recovered and/or existing on the site.

TOPOGRAPHY: consider the site’s topography, as urban landform influences and choreographs flows of water, people, and materials into, across, and through the site.

RAIL SCALE: consider how the site fits into a larger network of land along the corridor in Champaign county, to consider physical and programmatic extensions.