SmithGroupJJR-designed University of Illinois’ Electrical and Computer Engineering Building named R&D Magazine’s Laboratory of the Year

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Net-zero energy ready building, designed by SmithGroupJJR, is one of the highest performing teaching and research facilities in the U.S.

The New Electrical and Computer Engineering Building, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

The New Electrical and Computer Engineering Building, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

The international 'Lab of the Year' competition recognizes the best new and renovated laboratories that combine all aspects of the building into a superior working environment.

Designed by SmithGroupJJR, the new Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) Building at the University of Illinois campus in Urbana has been named R&D Magazine’s 2016 “Laboratory of the Year.” The $95 million, 230,000-square-foot building is one of the highest performing teaching and research facilities in the U.S.

The net-zero energy ready facility acts as the new home for the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE ILLINOIS), which has a deep tradition of innovative faculty, hands-on classroom experiences and groundbreaking research that helped shape the modern world with the advent of transistors, integrated circuits, light emitting diodes (LEDs) and plasma displays.

The prestigious, international, Lab of the Year competition, now in its 50th year, recognizes the best new and renovated laboratories that combine all aspects of the building into a superior working environment. It showcases new and emerging thinking, sustainable practices and creative responses to challenges in the design, construction and operation of modern laboratories.

ECE received the significant recognition for its status as a teaching and research facility designed to promote interdisciplinary interaction in a net-zero ready facility. Through the design and construction of this facility, ILLINOIS was determined to set new standards in building energy use and invested in strategies that could enable the building to supply its own energy.

"We are truly honored by this recognition. Not only is it a really beautiful building, but it's a building that allowed us to live what we really believe," said William Sanders, department head, ECE ILLINOIS.

Net-Zero Energy Ready
Keeping with ECE ILLINOIS’ history of technical innovation, energy efficiency was not only a priority, but a driver for the project. The ECE Building uses 50 percent 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 containing an instructional clean room. A solar array is 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.

SmithGroupJJR’s design significantly optimizes the building’s energy efficiency. Some of the project’s sustainable design features include:

  • An enhanced exterior envelope including solar screens and a three-story solar canopy of angled louvers protect 80 percent of the building’s glazing from solar heat gain while maintaining views to the outside
  • A high-performance, terra cotta rainscreen system clads 70 percent of the building envelope, with double paned, ultra-clear glass making up the remaining 30 percent
  • 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

For the Students
The building is a new home for the department. At 230,000 square feet, it’s nearly twice the size of its former location within Everitt Laboratory. It houses all of ECE ILLINOIS’ instructional labs, some of which now have adjoining classrooms and room for faculty members and teaching assistants to stage equipment and test out concepts without occupying valuable lab space. The building’s soaring lobby also features communal seating, where students can collaborate outside of class or sip coffee while they study.

The Texas Instruments Electronics Design Lab provides an improved space where all ECE ILLINOIS freshmen take Introduction to Electronics. This instructional clean room is the first of its kind for undergraduates, allowing them to start their college careers with hands-on learning of cutting-edge nanofabrication technology.

"Our goal was to deliver a building that represents the stature of this world-renowned department, positions its students and researchers at the forefront of emerging technology, and acts as a catalyst for efficient building energy standards on the ILLINOIS campus,” said SmithGroupJJR Project Manager Carolina Lopez, AIA, LEED AP BD+C. “This award is a testament of that unparalleled effort and proof that this facility goes beyond bricks and mortar to represent the department’s mission and values.”

SmithGroupJJR, a recognized leader in architecture, engineering, and planning, served as design architect, lab planner, structural engineer and landscape architect for the five-story research and teaching complex. The firm last received the Lab of the Year award in 2014 for its work on National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s Energy Systems Integration Facility, Golden, Colorado.

The prime contractor for the ECE Building was Peoria, Illinois-based Williams Brothers Construction, Inc. and KJWW, Rock Island, Illinois, served as mechanical engineer for the project. The $95 million project, which completed construction in 2014, was funded half by the State of Illinois and half by private and corporate donations.

Judging for this year’s competition was performed by an expert panel of architects, engineers, equipment suppliers, researchers and the editors of R&D Magazine, Laboratory Design newsletter.

Awards for the Laboratory of the Year competition were presented at the 2016 Laboratory Design Conference on April 26, 2016 at the Royal Sonesta in Houston, Texas.

SmithGroupJJR ( is a recognized, integrated architecture and engineering firm ranked Top 10 in the U.S. by Building Design + Construction magazine. The firm’s nationally recognized Science & Technology Practice has completed the planning and design of over 20 million square feet in the past ten years of academic, corporate and government research laboratories, ranging from small laboratory renovations to large research campuses. In 2014, SmithGroupJJR’s design of the Energy Systems Integration Facility at the NREL also received R&D Magazine’s “Laboratory of the Year” award. The firm has been honored eight times in this prestigious, international competition. A national leader in sustainable design, SmithGroupJJR has 130 LEED certified projects.

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