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Table Setting Wows Visitors To Alumni Center
By Peter T. Tomaras
Photo by Brian L. Stauffer
|Dozens of visitors gather around the immense, eye-popping boardroom table at the Alice Campbell Alumni Center. They were attending the center’s grand opening in May 2006.|
In envisioning the Alice Campbell Alumni Center, Loren R. Taylor sought to make a statement.
“This is not just another building,” said Taylor, who serves as president and CEO of the University of Illinois Alumni Association. Indeed, the massive limestone façade of the $16 million center – built entirely from private donations – bespeaks the solid stability of the University of Illinois, while the interior motif of gentle arches and cherry woodwork offers a warm welcome to returning alumni.
“I also wanted our UIAA boardroom to be a showcase,” Taylor said, “and to engender a sense of pride among the directors I serve.” Mission accomplished: No feature within the edifice has inspired more awe than the boardroom’s conference table, which weighs 6,000 pounds, measures nearly 700 square feet and comfortably seats 36.
According to Bruce Maxey ’89 FAA, MARCH ’92, of BLDD Architects Inc., which designed the building located at the northeast entrance to campus, the squared-oval shape of the second-floor boardroom (funded by an anonymous donor) was designed to best configure the table and “to take advantage of exterior and interior panoramas.” The north-side window wall bathes the room in natural light, and from the Carmichael-DiIorio Balcony, conferees enjoy a vista sweeping from the Hallene Gateway Plaza past the UI Office of Admissions and Records building to the Spurlock Museum, with the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts looming beyond.
While Taylor envisioned an “appropriately significant” conference table, a fruitless search across the Midwest for an example convinced him the table would have to be created.
“We chose an elliptical shape to enhance face-to-face discussion,” explained Maxey, “then tailored it to fit the space as part of the structure rather than a piece of furniture. The vaulted ceiling above the long axis of the table creates an intimacy in the otherwise massive meeting space.” This curved, cherry “cloud” reflects similar canopies throughout the building, while enhancing the room’s superb acoustics.
The table design was taken to the UI Facilities & Services Mill Shop, where foreman Steve Loveless responded, “We can do that.” Enter mill workers Dale Eliason and Scott Schmidt to undertake the largest single piece they had ever built at the shop. The job required 14 weeks.
The finished product can easily accommodate three dozen people, with additional seating provided by benches beneath the windows. At its extremities, the table top measures 34 feet by 20 feet – more square footage than some apartments. The UIAA logo at its center, fashioned of plain-sliced cherry and walnut, measures 9 feet 6 inches by 9 feet 6 inches. Pie-shaped segments, or panels, of quartersawn cherry – 10 outer and 10 inner – fan out from the logo, separated by brass inlay strips to minimize wood-to-wood seams. A 4-inch outer rim of cherry hardwood encircles the table, echoed by a concentric band of flatsawn cherry between the inner and outer panels. The ponderous top rests on three huge oval bases and a weblike substructure of steel-reinforced I-beams.
Assembling the table was no easy task. Over the course of six days, Eliason and Schmidt wrestled the top’s segments into perfect juxtaposition, spending hours inside the hollow pods, attaching the substrata to the top through two underlayers of Masonite pegboard. Instructions, had there been any, would have warned, “Do not tighten screws until all pieces are in place.” The mill workers finished just two weeks before the center’s May 2006 dedication.
This man-made mesa elevates its builders’ craftsmanship to artistry. Eliason and Schmidt said when it comes to pride in a finished project, this table ranks “right at the top.” In fact, Schmidt brought his children by to have a look.
And, thanks to expert audiovisual systems, ceiling-mounted projector and screens and two soon-to-be-installed 60-inch plasma displays, the table’s functionality matches its jaw-dropping appearance.
Since the UIAA Board of Directors (comprising 30 alumni and 10 ex-officio members, including three student campus representatives) typically meets in Urbana but twice a year, one might wonder if the table’s grandeur is justifiable. Taylor and UIAA board members would chorus “absolutely.” Taylor pointed out that the boardroom has been booked by select groups such as the provost’s office and the Global Campus Partnership, offsetting the table’s expense.
Taylor emphasized that even when not occupied, the room is working. He estimates that three out of four visitors to the alumni center ask, “Where’s the table?” then gawk through the boardroom glass.
“That’s exciting,” Taylor said, “because this is the house of the people, our alumni from all three campuses. Their emotional response tells me the table has become a source of pride.”
This article was originally printed in the March/April 2007 issue of Illinois Alumni magazine.