Home to 2,200 Illinois State University students during the academic year, Watterson Towers is the tallest residence hall in the United States. The 28-story twin-tower complex is divided into 10, five-story "houses" that are named after U.S. Secretaries of State. The unique design of Watterson Towers treats each house as a separate residence hall, with the third floor of each house containing elevator access and an enclosed walkway that leads to the opposing tower. Within a house, most floors are divided into four "suites" consisting of six rooms each. However, on the third floor of each house, there are only two suites, as the area for the other two suites is taken up by the connecting breezeways and study lounges.
The towers are currently undergoing interior and exterior renovations designed by Cordogan Clark & Associates. "In general, we'll be aiming for a less institutional feel," said Maureen Blair, ISU housing director. Watterson Towers is known for its vast use of concrete, and its windowless lounge spaces, but after the renovations are completed, new brightly painted walls will greet residents in renovated sections, she said. Areas outside elevator stops will get makeovers too, adding campus history photos and trivia about the secretaries of state for whom each house is named. While floor plans won't change, nearly everything else will: ISU is replacing all furniture, sprucing up bathrooms, adding overhead lights, and adding unique features to offer variety throughout the building. The buildings also will get wireless technology. Other work includes expansion of the sprinkler system, repairing the building's exterior and insulating cross-tower breezeways.
The renovations are being coordinated over a 30-month period to allow for continuous occupancy. "This will be the only building renovated while occupied," said Blair. Beginning in the Fall of 2010, a section of 10-floors per phase will be taken offline, and crews will co-exist with residents at Watterson. Students will see construction lifts outside their windows, and contractors will share elevator rides and staircases with residents. "It's required a lot of planning and coordination," said Blair, but fine-tuned plans should keep everything running smoothly.