Story of Place
By Carter Bell
While Honors at Iowa is often thought of in the abstract as an intellectual community of high-achieving students and an engaged faculty and staff, the people and ideas that make up Honors at Iowa also have a physical space to call home: the Blank Honors Center. The Blank Honors Center is located east of the Iowa River on the corner of Bloomington Street and the T. Anne Cleary Walkway. However, the Honors Program has not always called the Blank Honors Center home.
The Blank Honors Center, or the BHC as it is fondly referred to, currently houses the University of Iowa’s Honors Program. Until the early 2000’s, the Shambaugh House, presently located on Clinton and Fairchild Streets, housed the UI Honors Program. The Shambaugh house was originally a Queen Anne-style private home that paid great attention to woodwork and ornamentation. Nicholas Colangelo is the former director of the Belin Blank Center for Talented and Gifted Education—which is now located on the fifth and sixth floors of the BHC.
Dr. Colangelo was instrumental in the planning process of moving the Honors Program from the Shambaugh House to its new location in its own building, the Blank Honors Center. Dr. Colangelo notes that what students liked most about Shambaugh were the coziness and the homey feelings. Since it was a grand, old house, it provided students with privacy and a student-centered aspect.
Alice Haugen, former Honors Program Director and now a professor emeritus, was also involved in the designing process of the BHC. According to Dr. Haugen, the architect for the BHC worked with both her and Dr. Colangelo. Dr. Colangelo described the designing of the building as a very long and vibrant process. Along with Haugen and Colangelo, the Belin-Blank Center personnel, people working for the Honors program, and students all gave their suggestions on the design of the new building. Students were particularly solicited for their advice on how to best replicate the features they admired most in Shambaugh into the new BHC.
The designing of the third floor of the BHC was particularly important, as it was envisioned as a floor dedicated students. It is indeed a very student-centered space: there are private student rooms, clusters of couches and chairs, a small library, a large study space, and a kitchen. Honors students had the most impact when it came to planning the third floor. Dr. Haugen said that students mentioned several things that they liked from the Shambaugh House: the light, the wood, the porch, the spaces to gather casually, the kitchen. Dr. Haugen also knew that students valued study space, hence the multiple private study rooms. Shambaugh had a very minimal computer lab, so Dr. Haugen and others knew that they needed as big of a computer lab as they could persuade ITS to support. Dr. Haugen and the rest of the planning process team furthermore envisioned having space for several kinds of activities that Shambaugh wouldn’t allow, such as large group meetings, film festivals, and local speakers. Therefore, the larger rooms in the BHC were designed with these different events in mind. The BHC also makes use of wood in on the third floor in order to reflect the hominess that students felt in the Shambaugh House, according to Dr. Colangelo. Because of all of these features and details, the third floor of the BHC truly reflects the values of the students in the Honors program.
A unique feature of the BHC is its skywalk, which connects to Daum Hall. Honors students who live in Daum have easy access to the private study room, couches, and kitchen that the BHC offers. The third floor of the BHC was intended to be a “connection” between the Honors Center and Daum Residence Hall, or the Honors dorm. Today, students travel between the BHC and Daum with the swipe of a card. However, this was not with dedicated lobbying on behalf of Dr. Haugen, who reports that in the planning process, it was often proposed to cut the pricey feature, but Dr. Haugen knew it would be important to students. She fought tirelessly for it and won.
Today, the Honors students of the University of Iowa can find places to study, to socialize, and to relax in the Blank Honors Center. While it is dedicated to academic achievement, it is the student-centered third floor—a result of careful planning by dedicated faculty such as Dr. Haugen and Dr. Colangelo—that makes the BHC so invaluable to the Honors student experience.