Foellinger Auditorium

Urbana, Illinois | C.1907

Photo Credit: Isaac Navar

Wandering through the campus of University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (U of I) in Urbana Illinois, one will stumble across the university’s concert hall and largest lecture hall known as the Foellinger Auditorium. It is hard to miss as the size of the building and its unique dome make it one of the university’s most recognizable buildings.

The idea for an Auditorium began in 1905 when the university’s president, Edmund Janes James, wanted to build a “noble monument” dedicated to the art of music. The university’s trustees chose noted theatre designer and U of I alumnus Clarence H. Blackall who was a member of the class of 1877. Along with the Auditorium for U of I she was also most notably responsible for the Wilbur and Colonial Theatres in Boston.

The building location was chosen at the southernmost tip of the main quad and completed in 1907 in the Beaux-Arts style. The design is effectively a circle with a 120-foot diameter covering 17,000 square feet, and a large vestibule on the north side. A total of 396 lights on its copper dome highlight the interiors.

Several weeks before the dedication of the building was scheduled, Blackall learned that the hall was acoustically imperfect, with what University President James referred to as “A fearful echo”. Fixing the hall’s sound was assigned to professors of the university’s Physics Department. Floyd Rowe Watson took up the challenge even though he knew very little about acoustics, yet spent the next six years dedicated to the problem. He was later recognized as a leader in acoustics. Remodeling of the interior took place in 1915 and 1937 were a partially dedicated to the effort of fix the acoustical problem.

Today the Auditorium is used as a large lecture hall, mainly for the Economics Department. Directly in front of the building, at the bottom of the stairs, there is a semi-circular forecourt area that still produces an echo. Due to the architecture, when standing directly in the center, an echo can be heard when someone speaks. This area is known as the “echo spot” to most students on the campus, and it seems the building will always be remembered for its acoustical imperfection.

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