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State Office Transformation Project

Springfield, IL, United States

What happens to abandoned buildings when the world around them changes because of economic or technological changes? Sears was once a juggernaut, the largest retailer in the United States it made up 1 percent of the entire US economy in the 1980's. Malls rose throughout the country with Sears anchoring many of them; however, with the rise of online retail, malls have emptied out and have become a blight on the American landscape. The Illinois State Office Transformation project confronts the problem of a huge, vacant, mall anchor store and parking lot into an opportunity for responsible change in an era of dwindling resources. Located in the White Oaks Mall in Springfield, IL our new project will house the Environmental Protection Agency, the Illinois Pollution Control Board, and the Illinois Department of Innovation and Technology. This new building reflects the sustainability goals of these State agencies and embodies the spirit of innovation.  

Abandoned big box retail spaces offer many design opportunities. The existing building provides vast open spans offering up manifold possibilities for room and workstation layouts. The lofty ceilings make for a sublime space. However, the typology does have its problems; the space is a vast, windowless box with enormous floor plates that had been artificially lit with a sea of fluorescent lights. Our solution to lighting is to replace the existing, blank, precast concrete façade with an ultra-modern ceramic frit curtainwall. We cut large openings in the roof for skylights and lifted large, airy volumes with clerestory windows to make the space open and bright. We replaced the escalators to the second floor with a monumental staircase and opened a clerestory over the space to feed a full-size specimen tree with daylight.

This project is designed with the end user in mind, there are gestures throughout the space to make working a better working environment. Forms, colors, and daylight combine to remind the people who regulate our environment of their connection to the sky while at their desks. Recycling the existing building offers a template for how to repurpose the increasing number of empty big box stores in our communities.


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