Siebel: From the Earth, for the Earth

Siebel: From the Earth, for the Earth

May 2024 update: iSEE Intern Madison Holcomb interviewed Nicholas Puddicombe, Siebel’s Senior Associate Director of Operations & Experience, about the building’s sustainable features. Listen here: 

A wooden ceiling and gray brick-tiled floor extend past the entry doors on both sides of Siebel Center for Design, creating a seamless pathway for visitors to pass through the heart of the newly opened facility.

This combination of earthy materials with the glass entryways provides a cue that the building itself is one with nature, graceful and non-disrupting to the environment.

The continuity between the structure and nature is evident as you walk through the Gallery, a sleek common space spanning the first level of the building.

The seating area near the Starlight Cafe offers expansive outdoor views, above. At top, native landscaping surrounds much of the building. Credits: Quinn Wolski

The nearby Starlight Cafe is equipped with seating to enjoy the scenery just outside, whether you’re intently working or just relaxing. With its entire north and east walls made of glass, this space lends a new perspective to the typical campus lounge. The setting provides an ideal amount of natural light and the feel of being on a deck overlooking the warm glow of the landscaping. Just as naturally it can be converted to the exact opposite ​​— a black-out multimedia space with remote-controlled shades.

The purpose in the design of Siebel Center rests in its ability to make each space, element, and view as versatile and seamless as possible. This is achieved by incorporating the environment naturally in each space while creating the least amount of disturbance to the landscape.

A raw concrete ramp and stairs build a slow descent to the lower level. From above, large cylinder skylights are scattered throughout the roof, flooding the lower level with direct sunlight.

The Shop on the lower level is tucked away from the glow of the skylights above, making it a difficult area to access nature. To solve this issue, the designers included a window spanning the upper wall on the south and east ends of the workspace to capitalize on the limited natural openings available.

Despite being only a couple of feet high, the window will allow the low-winter sun to track directly across the room, providing additional light and heat through the cold season.

Natural light can strategically enter the building, filling each space with brightness and energy. This is a purposeful element in much of the design to minimize the use of artificial lights during the day. In fact, artificial lighting has been used only minimally in the short time the facility has been in operation, according to Lisa Bralts, Associate Director of Marketing at the center. Even when artificial lighting is necessary, switches are set in increments of 20, 50, and 100 percent to allow judicious use.

A series of solar panels line the roof, allowing nearly 20 percent of the building’s energy to be created on-site. This saves on energy purchases while using nature as intended.

The design team also created workspaces that can be transformed so that the building can mold to patrons as well as the environment. The furniture is movable in every workspace. The intention is to diverge from the rigid arrangement of many university buildings and foster a sense of community and creativity in each person who enters.

The building’s donor, Thomas Siebel, understands the importance of versatility. Siebel was an interdisciplinary academic who attended Illinois for history as an undergraduate. He then moved on to focus his career on interdisciplinary opportunities within computer science and business.

As a tribute to the value of interdisciplinary studies that contribute profound research to the University of Illinois, an interactive, augmented reality mural has been installed in the Gallery. The mural offers an immersive experience into the history and future of interdisciplinary work on campus and provides a hub for visitors to learn about those who continue pushing the boundaries of what is achievable at Illinois.

With some of the best design equipment found on campus, Siebel Center has the tools to see a project through from sketches to prototypes. An all-inclusive audio/video multimedia room will provide space for photography, video, audio, music, and other multimedia projects. Siebel Center for Design defines itself as a space for the design side and business side of a project to work simultaneously. It fosters efficiency at every turn, allowing a design idea to grow from start to finish in a single facility.

Sustainable design means so much more than creating a small margin of energy savings or slightly incorporating the environment into a structure. The center flows seamlessly from nature to indoor space, allowing the environment to completely embody the structure.

The native prairie plants in the landscaping and beautiful nature pathway lining the south side of the building respect the history of the land on which it sits. Meanwhile, the interior design serves to highlight those elements, and the building becomes intertwined with its surroundings. Siebel achieves this scope of sustainability in every choice of design and every choice of material.

To create an opulent building that still manages to reduce its impact on the land and avoids disrupting the natural beauty that surrounds it is no small feat. The architectural design team at Bohlin Cywinski Jackson provided Illinois with a state-of-the-art sustainable building that respects the landscape’s past while addressing some of the largest influences on design in a changing global climate.

Siebel Center for Design will celebrate its grand opening on Friday, Oct. 8.

— Article and photos by iSEE Communications Intern Quinn Wolski