Chapter 5. Building Boom and Bust: 1955-1984
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46 Chapter 5 Building Boom and Bust 1955-1984 On a summer evening in 1953 some of the university’s most powerful men gathered in architect Ambrose Richardson’s basement to view the architect’s model for the new Law School Building. Richardson, tall and poised, was a master salesman. Now, aided by his vivacious wife and a tray of cocktails, he theatrically removed the sheet covering the elaborate eighth-scale model and savored the oohs and aahs that spilled from his guests. “This is just wonderful,” Albert Harno, the Law School dean, was heard to remark. “I’m so thrilled.” Then, the bespectacled Harno added, “Now, the only thing I don’t understand is what it’s going to look like.” The new Law School building looked like a series of boxes—sleek, red-brick, aluminum, and glass boxes. “It was a Miesian type of thing, very cold, sitting on the fringe of this oversized Georgian campus,” Richardson told an interviewer years later. The minimalist architecture of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe had become the go-to design approach for a generation of postwar architects. “He (Mies) had shown us a way that we thought was the sensible and logical way to design,” Richardson said. “You do it on a modular, sensible, structural system. No nonsense. This is a good way to do it, and so everything became boxes.” Richardson had a direct connection to Mies van der Rohe. He was a senior at the Armour Institute of Technology (now the Illinois Institute of Technology) when Mies became head of the architecture school there in 1938. Educated in the old Beaux-Arts system, Richardson had had extreme difficulty adjusting to the radical new ideas and methods of Mies. But he succumbed, and his subsequent work as the chief designer in the Chicago office of Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill displayed a pronounced Miesian stamp. Reduced to a self-described “raving wreck” by the excessive demands of his job, the thirty-four-year-old Richardson left Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill in 1951 to take a teaching position at the U of I, filling the slot vacated by the Peoria architect Cecil Briggs. Richardson’s reputation as an SOM alumnus preceded him, and soon university architect Ernie Stouffer came calling, offering him the chance to design the new Law School building. 47 —— Building Boom a nd Bust  —— The new residence halls were part of a $36 million emergency housing program developed in response to the baby boom. It was a familiar story: how to cope with an expanding enrollment. But the magnitude of the postwar baby boom was extraordinary. In the state of Illinois, 141,056 babies were born in 1945; a year later that figure increased to 177,607; and by 1951, it had jumped to 202,845. Adding to the problem, the number of high school students choosing to go to college mushroomed from only 15 percent in 1940 to 40 percent in 1955. This “avalanche of children,” in Richardson’s words, threatened to overwhelm an already overcrowded university. In summer 1954 a faculty committee estimated that enrollment on the Urbana-Champaign campus would reach twenty-three thousand in 1962-63 and a whopping thirtyeight thousand by 1972. (Enrollment on the UIUC campus in the winter session of 1953-54 was only 17,652.) The committee recommended new spaces to address both current overcrowding and the future enrollment surge. It also made a case for the establishment of a four-year U of I campus in the Chicago area, with the argument that half of the university ’s students and half of the state’s population lived in Cook County and its surrounding collar counties. Acting President Morey was fully on board with the recommendations. He set the wheels in motion for the creation of a Chicago campus and prodded Urbana campus planners to get going on an ambitious building program. Morey wanted university officials to start thinking in the longer term regarding campus planning and development. “It seems to me that we should begin now to determine what additional facilities are needed at Urbana-Champaign to take care of the enrollment of 23,000 predicted in this schedule,” the acting president wrote in March 1955 to Whitney Huntington, chairman of the Building Program Committee. Planning was critical to Morey’s successor, David Dodds Henry, the former executive vice chancellor of New York University. A onetime president of Wayne State University A year’s worth of effort led to the...