University Library Announces Architectural/Engineering Firms

Artist's concept of the renovation.
Artist’s concept of the renovation.

The Library at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign has announced that the design of its new archives and special collections building will be jointly led by Champaign-based RATIO Architects and Boston-based Shepley Bulfinch.

These firms will lead a team that will embark on transforming the current Undergraduate Library building into a facility that will house the University Archives, the Illinois History and Lincoln Collections, and the Rare Book & Manuscript Library. Their work will kick off the first phase of a multi-stage project that will culminate in the redevelopment of the 100-year old Main Library Building as a rich hub of research and learning for the University’s community of humanities and social sciences scholars.

The University Library issued a Request for Proposals for a design architect on October 22, 2020. A total of 25 proposals were received and evaluated. After narrowing the pool down to seven, a final round of presentations and evaluations led to a strong endorsement by members of the University Library and the project team of the submittal delivered by RATIO and Shepley Bulfinch.

The architectural and engineering teams were chosen for their collective expertise and experience with similar projects; their understanding of the project requirements and schedules; their proposed approach to working with project stakeholders; their approach to designing a space that will incorporate accessibility and universal design principles; and their experiences working with like materials. The evaluative team devoted particular attention to the expertise of preservation consultants engaged by the project teams and the experiences of team members in designing and renovating facilities intended to house special collections materials.

“Our extraordinary rare and archival collections have long deserved a home commensurate with their scope and quality,” said John P. Wilkin, the Juanita J. and Robert E. Simpson Dean of Libraries and University Librarian. “The renovation of the Undergraduate Library enhances our ability to preserve the collections and will support an improved level of access for future generations of scholars.”

The primary firms have executed many designs and renovations for other libraries. In addition to numerous Urbana-campus projects, RATIO’s portfolio includes the Thomas S. & Harvey D. Wilmeth Active Learning Center at Purdue University; the Krannert Memorial Library at the University of Indianapolis; and the Roy O. West Library at DePaul University. Shepley Bulfinch’s previous work includes the Firestone Library at Princeton University, the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Duke University; the Hesburgh Libraries at Notre Dame; the Alfred R. Goldstein Library at the Ringling College of Art and Design; and Harvard University’s Lamont Library. Other project team members contributed to the successful execution of projects at the National WWI Museum; the National September 11 Memorial; Library and Archives Canada’s Gatineau 2 Preservation Facility; and the Rhode Island State Archives.

“The evaluation team was particularly impressed by the comprehensive expertise of the successful bidders. With awards for the Firestone and Rubenstein library projects and a strong team versed not only in architectural preservation and adaptive reuse but the preservation of library materials, the RATIO/Shepley Bulfinch proposal rose to the top,” said Thomas Teper, Associate University Librarian for Collections and Technical Services and Project Director, Library Building Project.

Speaking on behalf of RATIO, Principal Architect Kevin Huse noted “This is an exciting and unique opportunity to be part of uniting these remarkable collections and pieces of history into a unified center that will preserve the collections for generations and enhance accessibility for everyone.”

The Undergraduate Library building was first built in 1969. Plans for a renovation, identifying the building as the ideal site to serve the Library’s archives and special collections, were introduced in 2009. The national economic situation delayed continued development. In early 2018, those plans were revisited. Since then, campus feedback has been sought actively through numerous discussions and town hall sessions, a campus-wide committee submitted recommendations, and a Special Collections Research Center Working Group was formed within the Library to directly engage in the planning process.

“It is no accident that the growth of Illinois into an internationally recognized and world-class university has coincided with the growth and development of one of the most important and most distinguished academic libraries in the country,” said Andreas Cangellaris, Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs. “This is a vital first step forward to ensure that our University Library continues to provide the vibrant heartbeat our university needs to continue to be one of the most influential universities in the world.”

To ensure the archives and special collections building reflects the University Library’s vision and aspirations while meeting the needs of the campus community, broad consultations have and will continue to be part of the design process. The building has a $46 million project budget with more than $40 million already secured. It is slated to be completed in 2024.

RATIO, founded in 1982, is a design firm that has “achieved international recognition on the strength of projects requiring complex consensus-building and contextual design in urban and campus environments” with five studios located in Champaign, IL; Chicago, IL; Raleigh, NC; Denver, CO; and Indianapolis, IN. More information is available at

Boston-based Shepley Bulfinch is a national architecture firm and a woman-owned business enterprise with offices in Hartford, CT; Houston, TX; and Phoenix, AZ. More information is available at

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