Illinois Assembly Hall Renovation :: Assembly

Illinois Assembly Hall Renovation

By Lisa NapolesOne element of the dialogue that arose from the campaign to save the former Prentice Women’s Hospital designed by Bertrand Goldberg focused on the feasibility of repairing and preserving thin shell concrete structures. Thin shell concrete is costly and complicated to maintain, and, as in the case of Prentice, designs that are highly specific to the building’s original function can present challenges to adaptive re-use.

Photo (left): State Farm Center (formerly University of Illinois Assembly Hall), Harrison & Abramovitz, architects, 1957-1963. Photo credit: Creative Commons

While the discussion of preserving Prentice’s concrete shell was left largely to architects and engineers, the dominant theme in the debate about the former hospital was the fact that many people perceive Modernist concrete buildings as alienating, frequently using the word “eyesore” to describe them. The renovation of the former University of Illinois Assembly Hall is a preservation success story of the monumental concrete building that was saved, in large part, due to strong community support, and which generations of students have referred to as the “flying saucer.”

The former Assembly Hall was designed by Wallace K. Harrison (1895-1981) and Max Abramovitz (1908-2004). Harrison received his early architectural training in Worcester, Massachusetts before attending Columbia University from 1916 to 1917, and later studying at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. While attending Columbia and again following his return from Paris, Harrison worked intermittently for McKim, Mead, & White.1

Max Abramovitz received his bachelor’s degree in architecture from the University of Illinois in 1929 and his master’s degree from Columbia University in 1931. Abramovitz apprenticed to Harrison as an associate in the firm of Corbett, Harrison, & MacMurray. The architects formed Harrison & Abramovitz in 1945.2Between 1939 and 1942, both Harrison and Abramovitz taught at the Yale University School of Architecture, and are credited with changing the program from Beaux-Arts-influenced to Modernist.

The firm is best-known for commissions such as the United Nations headquarters (1947-53), Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts (1967-71), as well as Harrison’s independent commission, the fish-shaped First Presbyterian Church (1953-8) in Stamford, Connecticut. Where First Presbyterian Church is significant for the use of pre-cast concrete panels in its design, Harrison & Abramovitz chose cast-in-place thin shell construction for their Assembly Hall at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.Assembly Hall was constructed between 1957 and 1963, and cost .35 million to build. Amman & Whitney were the structural engineers on the project, the same firm involved with the construction of two notable thin shell concrete structures, Kresge Auditorium (1955) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the TWA terminal (1962) at John F. Kennedy International Airport, both designed by Eero Saarinen.3The arena was designed to function as a sports stadium, a concert hall, a theater able to host professional as well as student productions, and a convention hall. The structure is composed of a concrete bowl measuring 400 feet in diameter topped by a “folded-plate dome, ”4described at the time as the largest in the world.5The roof rises 128 feet above the floor at its apex and covers seating for 16, 000.

The outer rim of the roof is a post-tensioned compression ring which counters the thrust from the dome. The ring is supported by forty-eight massive reinforced-concrete radial buttresses. The seating bowl was sunk into the ground to allow access to seating at the midpoint of its slope and provide direct entry into the glazed concourse and exposition space. The entire surface of the dome is lined with a two-inch-thick layer of acoustical material, which was placed in the formwork, for sound absorption. The intent was for the arena to emulate the acoustical qualities of an outdoor venue. Max Abramovitz said of the building, “The Assembly Hall is a big, raw kind of thing all poured in place; the idea of concrete is different in this country. Here, manpower is expensive and materials cheap; the opposite is true in Europe, and their structures are light, strong, and fine. They are not rich, but have come up with a new kind of richness.”6

Photo (above): State Farm Center (formerly University of Illinois Assembly Hall), Harrison & Abramovitz, architects, 1957-1963. Photo credit: Progressive Architecture

You might also like

Buckeye 25614 ABC Multipurpose Dry Chemical Hand Held Fire Extinguisher with Aluminum Valve and Vehicle Bracket, 5 lbs Agent Capacity, 4-1/4" Diameter x 7-1/4" Width x 16-3/8" Height
BISS (Buckeye Fire Equipment Company)
  • ABC dry chemical is a multipurpose extinguishing agent that is suitable for use on Class A, Class B and Class C fires
  • Anodized aluminum valve assemblies for superior strength and corrosion resistance
  • Vehicle brackets for extended unit service life
  • Color-coded gauges show operating status at-a-glance
  • Measures 4-1/4-inches diameter by 7-1/4-inches width by 16-3/8-inches height
Buckeye 50000 Stainless Steel Water Pressurized Hand Held Fire Extinguisher with Wall Hook, 2.5 Gallon Agent Capacity, 7" Diameter x 9" Width x 24-1/2" Height
BISS (Buckeye Fire Equipment Company)
  • Water pressurized units provide effective and economical protection for common combustible fires
  • Water pressurized for use on Class A fires
  • Vehicle brackets for extended unit service life
  • Color-coded gauges show operating status at-a-glance
  • Measures 7-inches diameter by 9-inches width by 24-1/2-inches height
Anderson Scenic Post Cards Memorial Coliseum Portland, Oregon Original Vintage Postcard
Entertainment Memorabilia (Anderson Scenic Post Cards)
  • Categories: US State & Town Views,Oregon,Portland
  • Type: Chrome
  • Size: 3.5 x 5.5 (9 x 14 cm)
  • Publisher: Anderson Scenic Post Cards

Copyright © . All Rights Reserved