How the University of Illinois designed a new dining hall

tea bar

In January 2017, 10 representatives from the University of Illinois’ Housing, and Facilities and Services departments boarded a bus to Chicago. The group visited more than 20 dining concepts throughout the city over the course of two days. Their goal was to study everything about the eateries, from the flow of the space to the lighting, to inform the design for a new dining hall in the school's Illinois Street Residence Hall (ISR). 

“We’d walk into a space, we’d evaluate it, we’d get back on the bus and then immediately it was an information dump. Everyone was expected to have something to say,” says Chris Henning, senior assistant director of dining services.

Bakergroup, the university’s dining consultant for this project, and architecture firm Booth Hansen were present, taking detailed notes about what the group liked and didn’t like at each of the concepts. These observations would set the stage for the design of ISR's micro-restaurants, as well as its tea bar and convenience store.

Once they were back at the university, the group created concept boards that show what they liked from their visit. They then began to plan each concept’s design while keeping costs in mind.

“[Because] we are an auxiliary of the university, we do not receive any institutional or state funds,” says Alma Sealine, director of university housing, when discussing how the group formed its budget. “We had to make sure we were identifying a budget that we could afford …[while] taking into consideration the other renovation projects and new construction project that we had on the books in our long-range facility master plan.”

The group met to go through samples and different price points. Students were also brought in to look at the plans and give their feedback. The process took about two months.

“We had lots of conversations. We got to see a lot of pictures, touch a lot of finishes and see a lot of samples,” Sealine says. “We would price out all those samples and we would make a decision: ‘What’s more important—having this particular tile or having this particular floor?’”

Each of the 11 stations and micro-restaurants were designed to have their own separate look and feel. Click here for an inside look.

Photograph courtesy of the University of Illinois

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