Smile Politely

Exploring lesser-known campus spaces

The Krannert Art Museum, Arboretum, Japan House, Spurlock Museum, and Krannert Center for the Performing Arts are some of the most well-known cultural attractions on the University of Illinois campus, but there also exists a lesser-known underbelly of university spaces that are just as fascinating. As a C-U area resident, U of I student, or just a visitor, these places can offer affordable (or free) and educational experiences, and may just be hiding in plain sight. Here are five humble suggestions for the curious Chambana resident.

Plant Biology Conservatory (1201 S. Dorner Drive, Urbana)

This conservatory on the south end of campus consists primarily of an immersive greenhouse room that sports tropical plant species and can be traversed by a small winding path. Other, smaller auxiliary rooms can be found just past the main conservatory, such as an arid biome room.

The Plant Biology Conservatory is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on weekdays. Admission is free; however, the conservatory is currently operating without funding, so any donations are encouraged and can be placed in the donations box near the doorway. Metered street parking is usually available on Dorner, Peabody, or in the lot to the north. The MTD 12 Teal, 8 Bronze, 21 Raven, and 13 Silver routes serve the conservatory.

Pollinatarium (606 W. Windsor Road, Urbana)

The Pollinatrium is as fascinating as it is easy to miss. This facility is only accessible by a gravel roadway that juts north of Windsor Road east of Lincoln Avenue. The roadway straddles a forest and farm until one happens upon an unassuming shack wrapped in a mural of insect life. Every piece of pollinator history can be found in its exhaustive exhibits, all relating to one of the planet’s most important beings, bees. Its grounds also allow visitors to walk through natural prairies and see pollinator gardens.

The Pollinatarium is open from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, though visits can be made throughout the week by appointment. Admission is free, but a $1 donation is suggested to keep this place buzzing into the future. Parking is available on site.

Sousa Archives & Center for American Music (1103 S. Sixth Street, Champaign)

Located in the Harding Band Building, SACAM, functions both as a small museum and research center into the history of music. Artifacts and documents throughout the vast history of American music are stored in the facility. Those seeking to do research or seeking a guided tour should make an appointment.

SACAM is open from 9 a.m to noon and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. It opens one hour later at 10 a.m. on Wednesdays. Admission is free. Metered parking is available at lot E3 and on Sixth between Peabody and Gregory, but spaces may be scarce during the day. Alternatively, the MTD serves this building excellently; it is accessible via the 13 Silver, 4 Blue, 10 Gold, 1 Yellow, 9 Brown, 21 Raven, 22 Illini, 8 Bronze, and certain trips on the 5 Green.

Photo by Andrew Dunham

Temple Hoyne Buell Hall (611 Lorado Taft Drive, Champaign)

Exhibitions ebb and flow in this building, which is solely an academic building. The naturally-lit grand atrium and the west wing of the first floor usually contain some displays from architecture students, usually proposals for something local, like a market building in downtown Champaign or a riverfront park in Danville. Displays vary based on schedules of classes, but these remain available throughout the day.

The building is open to the public from as early as 8 a.m. to as late as 8 p.m. on most weekdays and weekends. Other displays may be in the western wing of the Architecture Building’s (608 Lorado Taft Drive) first floor. Admission is free, but it is important to remember that there are students working in this building. Metered parking is available on Pennsylvania and Peabody. MTD’s 13 Silver, 4 Blue, 10 Gold, 21 Raven, 22 Illini, and 8 Bronze serve areas adjacent to the building.

Natural Resources Building (607 E. Peabody Drive, Champaign)

The Natural Resources Building is primarily an office and academic building. It is home to the Prairie Research Institute, which conducts environmental and geological samples and studies throughout the state. However, its first floor is an anomaly among academic buildings, as it contains intricate architectural detail, ample displays of rocks throughout the state, and fascinating maps and geological samples.

The building is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays. Admission is free, but it is important to remember that there are people at work in the building. Metered parking is available on Peabody and Pennsylvania. MTD’s 13 Silver, 4 Blue, 21 Raven, and 8 Bronze serve areas adjacent to the building.

Except where stated otherwise, photos from University of Illinois websites.

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