Grainger Engineering Library

The Grainger Engineering Library was designed by an architectural firm based out of Indianapolis, IN called, Woollen, Molzan and Partners. Located in Urbana, this library was completed in 1994.

Grainger Library was built on October 14, 1994 and was dedicated to all of the disciplines of the school of engineering at the University of Illinois. Before Grainger Library was built another building stood in its place. Over one hundred years before Grainger was built The Mechanical Engineering and Drilling Hall stood in the spot that Grainger resides now. This building housed classrooms and many military drills. The picture below depicts the Mechanical Engineering Building in the late 1880’s. The photo was taken facing the East direction and also shows the then unpaved Springfield Avenue. The Mechanical Engineering and Drilling Hall burned down in June of 1900. At that time there was no building designated to be an engineering library. The collections of engineering books were held in the Engineering Hall, which wasn’t really sufficient enough to hold the amount of books or the amount of students that were in the college of engineering.

The North campus was growing rapidly in the early 1900’s, due mostly to the spreading belief in progress that the country had during the last few decades before WWI. In 1919, a student by the name of William Wallace Grainger graduated from the University of Illinois with an Electrical Engineering degree. Out of college Grainger started a Company that sold small electrical supplies out of a Motor Book (our now-a-day catalog). The company was named W.W. Grainger, was staged out of Skokie, IL. This small company soon grew into a Fortune 500 Company. To this day still Grainger is a very large electrical supply company and still continues to send out catalogs showcasing over 400,000 items for sale.

William Grainger also was known for starting the Grainger Foundation in 1979 for the University of Illinois. He was the president of the foundation until his death in 1982. Upon William Grainger’s death his son David Grainger took over as president of the Grainger Foundation. In the late 1900’s when the University of Illinois was talking about building a separate engineering library for the north side of campus David Grainger showed interest in helping fund the construction.

Grainger Library was finished in October 1994. The library was a statement for the north end of campus and some of the money allotted for the construction of the library was even used to help develop some of the engineering quad on campus.

Before Grainger was built the many collections of the engineering books and archives were held in a small space within the Engineering Hall on Campus. This library contained only 120 seats for the over 5000 engineering students on campus. It also was only able to hold 50,000 books. This posed a large problem for the engineering side of campus. There was a large need for a new building dedicated as a complete library for the engineering students of the University of Illinois.

The plans were drawn up and construction soon began on the library. It was an expensive process totaling $34 million dollars in which David Grainger gave $18 million dollars in honor of his father and the rest was given from state funds and federal grants. The University of Illinois wanted a space where they would be able to fit all the volumes and collections of engineering books and resources along with study areas, computer labs, meeting spaces, tutoring areas, and classrooms. It was very important to the designers that the library contained a vast depth of technology. They received a grant from IBM, Hewlett Packard, NCR, and GTE to help fill the library with the technology that engineering students needed. While currently Grainer Library includes both a north and south entrance, the original plan didn’t include the north entrance. There was much controversy over whether or not to include the entrance but because so much of the Illinois faculty and students come from buildings on the north campus it was decided to add this extra entrance.

The construction of Grainger Library was for the most part a smooth process. There were only two large humps that caused delays. The first was when there was a campus wide flood that deposited 7-8 feet of water into the newly built basement of Grainger. In response to the high amounts of water found the basement had to be redone and this caused a 3-month delay in construction. The second delay came from the decision to add the second entrance on the North side of the building. This put the project over budget because it called for the need of extra metal detectors and other surveillance devices. This caused a 2-month delay in the construction process.

In mid-October 1994, the Grand Opening of the Grainger Engineering Library commenced. In order to match the technological aspect of the library the ribbon cutting ceremony was done with a computer in where David Grainger touched the screen and a ribbon was cut on the screen and fireworks appeared. Since then the library has been known worldwide. It is the largest engineering library in the country and in 1995 got the award of Project of the Year by the Illinois Engineering Council and the award of Excellence in Masonry Design.


Grainger Library is a four-story library. The lower level contains stacks, study carrels, engineering documents, and a computer lab. The First floor contains desks that one can reserve, the reference collection, vending machines, and a staff area. The second floor contains three galleries, and a commons. On the third floor there are conference rooms and study carrels. Finally the fourth floor has study rooms, EWS labs, CARE, and the Writer’s Workshop.

Upon Evans Woollen’s graduation from Yale in 1952, he began working with the renowned architect Philip Johnson in Connecticut until 1995 when he returned to his hometown, Indianapolis, and started his own firm. The firm’s early work focused on bank facilities, private residencies, and churches. In 1963, Woollen collaborated with John Johansen and created the Clowes Hall, a breakthrough in his career. It was such a splash that New York Times Magazine reviewed the hall and talked about its cultural impact. Soon after the success, senior partners Lynn Molzan and Laurence O’Connor joined the firm in 1965. After the firm was joined by two commissions, the Minton-Capehart Federal Building and the Indiana University Musical Arts Center, the firm started working on libraries, a field in which the firm would have developed to be its specialized design focus. Along with libraries, the firm also practiced in museums, performing arts centers, housing, and worship facilities. The firm offered services such as architecture, interior design, and planning.

Woollen chose to stay in his hometown, Indianapolis, instead of going to big cities and searching for exciting opportunities. He wanted to bring modern architecture back to Indianapolis, devoting his life to the modern movement of the city. Without a doubt, his buildings always get attention and reports for his design style. After decades of Woollen and his firm’s revolutionary contribution to the movement in architecture, the firm was finally closed in 2011.


Grainger Engineering Library Information Center, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, Illinois (1994)

Indianapolis-Marian County Public Central Library, Indianapolis, Indiana (historic renovation, 2007)

White River Gardens, Indianapolis, Indiana (1999)

Clowes Memorial Hall, Butler University, Indianapolis, Indiana (1964)

Frank Moody Music Building, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, Alabama

St. Maria Goretti Catholic Church, Westfield, Indiana

St. Andrew Abbey Church, Cleveland, Ohio



1301 W. Springfield Avenue, Urbana, IL 61801