Sidney Lu MEB: Elegant and Sustainable

Photo credit: Lucy Nifong

The Department of Mechanical Science and Engineering (MechSE) at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign is positioning itself to become one of the most innovative engineering departments in the country. It recently completed the $41 million “Transform MEB” project, which expanded and modernized the 73-year-old Mechanical Engineering Building.

The transformation includes a five-level, 30,000-square-foot addition to the east side of the building, a 3,000 square-foot-space increase on the north side of the building, and complete renovation of the existing 66,000-square-foot south wing.

The building was renamed the Sidney Lu Mechanical Engineering Building (Lu MEB for short) to honor a U of I alumnus who donated more than $21 million to support the project. Lu graduated in 1981 with bachelor’s degrees in both mechanical engineering and mathematics from the university, and now works as the chairman and CEO of Foxconn Interconnect Technology, Ltd.

The building was originally constructed in 1950 and was officially known as the Mechanical Engineering Building. By 1987, the Department of Mechanical Science and Engineering had begun to recognize the need for more instructional space to meet growing demand for the program. The 2018 Transform MEB project sought to address the need for space, greater technological innovation, and a collaborative environment.

Second-floor interior. Credit: HED

The renovation was designed with student input and guided by three pillars: Education, Innovation, and Community. Damon McFall, Director of Facilities and Operations for the department, reviewed research of industry publications, attended national conferences, and consulted with campus faculty and the Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning to develop space and classroom designs. He also relied heavily upon Campus Technical Services and the Office of the Provost to ideate technological interfaces and classroom designs that would accommodate online learning.

“There were many iterations and review meetings,” McFall said, “but what guided everyone was the goal of providing an interactive, healthy, inviting, and active learning space that was flexible and allowed for the greatest diversity of teaching methods.”

To increase opportunities for collaboration, Lu MEB has open “neighborhoods” on each floor, corridor pods for small group or individual work, maker spaces conducive to team projects — including the Jackson Family Innovation Studio, and quiet study spaces on the lower level. A Starbucks on the first floor further contributes to the community culture of the building. McFall included biophilic design elements throughout each of these spaces to encourage student wellness, including soon a living plant wall on the second floor.

“We sought to provide a stimulating physical environment in which our faculty and students felt inspired to push the frontiers of knowledge,” McFall said.

And the building isn’t just a beautiful place to study. The sustainable design of Lu MEB contributes to the goals of the Illinois Climate Action Plan (iCAP) in multiple ways, and as of February 2023, the building is certified LEED Gold.

During the construction process, many demolished and packing materials were recycled. Lu MEB designers specifically chose paints and furniture with reduced or zero pollutants and recyclability, and all plants for the outside landscaping were locally sourced. The building contains LED lights, plant-based floor tile, energy-efficient appliances and fixtures, and recycling stations on every floor.

Photovoltaics are embedded in the fourth-floor windows. Credit: HED

The building façade is embedded with special solar panels called building integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) panels — one of the only installations of this scale nationally. It will serve as a learning tool and research opportunity for both faculty and students.

Lu MEB also uses auto-fault and detection algorithms, which actively monitor the energy systems to ensure efficiency and optimal cognitive performance for people in the building. Occupancy sensors turn off lights in empty rooms and adjust room temperature based on occupancy levels. Additionally, the building is fitted with energy wheels, which recover thermal heat and humidity in air handling units.

“My personal hope,” McFall said, “is that Lu MEB becomes a hallmark of our campus and an example of of how to care for energy and sustainability while improving the user experience in the space.”

Since the completion of the Transform MEB project, the building has become an active and inviting community center for students.

Mechanical engineering seniors host Tradeshow Day each semester, presenting their capstone design projects in the halls and speaking with students throughout the building. Registered Student Organizations frequently host meetings, workshops, and Tech Talks in the building, and many classes give poster presentations in the halls.

This year, Lu MEB will host the largest number of groups participating in the Engineering Open House 2023 on campus, and MechSE looks to help make the experience memorable with active participation of their MakerWorks Club and spaces.

“We are very grateful to all of our donors, including Mr. Sidney Lu. His commitment to our vision has made Lu MEB what it is today and will shape future generations,” McFall said. “We are also grateful for the work of the students, staff, and faculty that made this facility possible, as well as architects, engineers, designers, contractors, and laborers.”

Students from across campus are invited to stop by and enjoy Lu MEB study spaces and common areas.

— Article by iSEE Communications Intern Lucy Nifong