Bonded by Brick

Pioneering facility combines 18 colleges and universities under one roof.

Masonry Design Magazine
(all images) University Center of Lake County
Photo copyright Timothy Hursley
Floor plans courtesy Legat Architects

Editor’s Note:

This article first appeared in Masonry Design in Jan/Feb 2008 as our debut cover feature. As we return to print with this issue, we wanted to commemorate the occasion by reprinting this article, which is both a symbol for where we’ve been and a sign of things to come. Enjoy!

Five years ago, the University Center of Lake County, a partnership between 18 Illinois colleges and universities, operated classrooms in shared buildings. However, it had no core facility – no “face” to show the community.

The first facility of its kind in Illinois, the $19.8-million University Center of Lake County provides that face. The 91,000-square-foot, stand-alone academic center enables the organization to offer degree and workforce development programs from all its partner institutions under one roof.

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Five, separate “houses” surround an outdoor courtyard: three academic houses, a central house with core functions, and a multipurpose conference wing. Masonry façades on the north, east, and west sides present a formal face to the community. “Large and small recesses within and between the masonry houses break up the massing and suggest a multi-building campus,” says project manager Scot Parker of Legat Architects, the architectural firm of record on the project. The south façade, which curls around the courtyard, is clad in metal and glass.

The three-story facility contains 30 formal teaching spaces, including two fully equipped computer labs, two distance learning labs, a science lab, a tiered lecture hall, and a theater-style lecture hall with rear projection technology. Additional spaces include: nursing lab, elementary education classroom, open computer lab, library with computer space, and conference rooms usable as small seminar spaces. A 1.5-story conference space includes a multi-purpose room that divides into three smaller spaces for academic and professional uses.

Distinct, Yet Compatible
The center’s location on the College of Lake County (CLC) campus posed a difficult challenge. “We work closely with CLC,” says Hilary Ward Schnadt, associate dean for academic services and programs. “But we also work very hard to establish our independent identity as a higher education consortium that makes different academic demands on students and provides advanced college degrees. So we wanted the new facility to respect our connection to CLC, as well as our individuality.”

Turning Brick Into Gold
Chicago’s reputation as a leader in innovative architecture reaches far beyond the Loop’s skyscrapers of grass and steel. Case in point: the University Center of Lake County.

The project was one of two out of 100 submissions to receive a Gold Award at the Illinois/Indiana Masonry Council’s 2007 Excellence in Masonry competition. “While the nature of this building is the bringing together of many college programs,” said one juror, “the nature of the design is the bringing together of many individual brick masses into one finely integrated whole. The experience inside and out of this building must be an inspiration to the students and faculty passing through it.”

The project also received the Illinois Capital Development Board’s 2006 Thomas H. Madigan Award for Outstanding New Construction. The award is part of CDB’s “Pride in Partnership” competition, which emphasizes the contributions and benefits that partnering brings to projects. The selection committee consisted of CDB, architectural/construction industry, and higher education representatives.

Masonry helps respond to the challenge. “The brick is compatible with the color of neighboring campus buildings,” said Steven Brubaker, project designer. “However, its positioning in different patterns helps distinguish the University Center as a separate entity.”

Manufactured in Sergeant Bluff, Iowa, the brick is part of Sioux City Brick & Tile Company’s Natural Ironspot Series. Designers devoted a great deal of attention to exterior masonry details. For instance, bands of protruding, lighter “Grand Canyon Smooth” accent brick run through the darker “Coppertone Velour” field brick. Also, alternating bands of recessed, level, and protruding brick wrap around each corner.
At the main/north entry, a two-story glass wall and a four-story stair tower with a clerestory window further distinguish the University Center. Small glass panels punched into the masonry expose light from the interior at night.

In the south courtyard, the brick frames the serpentine metal wall. “It demonstrates brick’s versatility in being collaged with other materials,” says Brubaker.

Wayne Machnich, Legat’s principal in charge of the project, explains additional benefits of the brick: “Masonry’s inherent durability helps it stand up to northern Illinois’ extreme weather conditions by providing the thermal mass to balance the temperature drops in the winter and retard heat gain in the summer. Plus, its 100-plus year lifespan results in long-term savings.”

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A Traditional Material Suits a Contemporary Environment
Another key challenge involved responding to the University Center’s primary audience. “Because our programs serve working adults enrolled in evening/weekend classes, there is much more active learning with small group work than in a traditional college environment,” Schnadt said.

Living room style alcoves between classroom units echo brick patterns used on the exterior piers. The brick helps create comfortable nooks that encourage the spontaneous meetings and informal collaboration preferred by the University Center audience. “The design allows learning to extend beyond the traditional classroom,” says Schnadt.

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Partnering and Pioneering
“Planning, designing and building one facility for a college or university is challenging,” says Illinois Capital Development Board (CDB) senior project manager Bruce A. Locke, “but going through that process for one facility that has 18 colleges and universities represented – that was a very special and unique challenge.”

Sioux City Brick & Tile
Sioux City Brick & Tile Co., is a long-time manufacturer of high-quality clay brick and a distributor of related masonry products.
The company is located in Sioux City, Iowa, with manufacturing plants in Sergeant Bluff, Iowa and Adel, Iowa. Sioux City Brick is known for it’s diverse product lines and colors – from FBX architectural brick to distorted texture residential products. The company has an annual production capacity of more than 140 million brick.

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Such was the challenge that the design and construction team overcame. The project required a tremendous amount of teamwork between the CDB, the University Center, the College of Lake County, Legat Architects, Steve Brubaker (design consultant), HOK (design consultant), and the contractors (led by general contractor Henry Bros. Co.). The University Center provided strong leadership through an Architectural Review Committee, which balanced input from all parties.

As the CDB project manager, Locke was diligent in keeping the project moving forward. “We knew from the beginning that the use of brick would be a critical factor in meeting our demands regarding budget, quality and schedule,” he said.

Because of the successful partnering of all these entities, the University Center became the only project to win the Thomas H. Madigan Award for Outstanding New Construction in CDB’s 2006 “Pride in Partnership” competition.


“The University Center is a symbol of the highest level of collaboration between higher education providers and the community,” says Bryan Watkins, UC board chairman and executive director for the Institute for Adult Learning at Dominican University.

A Triumph of Contrasts
Technological progress and Midwestern strength. Curving bands and clean lines. A vibrant atrium with views to an open prairie. Metal and brick. The University Center of Lake County is a triumph of contrasts, and its formula has been effective. “The center admirably fulfills our mission of providing higher education to placebound students,” says Schnadt. “It creates a county hub for academic and professional enhancement, while enhancing our visibility.” MD

Douglas J. Ogurek, LEED AP, is a member of the higher education team at Legat Architects. He may be reached at 847.406.1141 or