Building Research Council 
School of Architecture  University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

 

 The History of The Building Research Council

The Building Research Council has done some major research since it was founded in 1944. Did you know that we coined the phrase "Kitchen Work Triangle" or that air conditioning was invented here? Or that roof truss construction was first advocated by the Council? Or that our energy efficient house designs of the late 1970's were featured on television?

Small Homes Council-the Beginning

The Small Homes Council (our original name) was organized in 1944 during the war at the request of the President of the University of Illinois to consider the role of the university in meeting the demand for housing in the United States. Soldiers would be coming home after the war and would be needing good low-cost housing. 

We were first housed in Mumford House
which was built in 1870 as a model farmhouse. 

The Council had members from Architecture, Mechanical Engineering and Home Economics at the University of Illinois and worked with industry at large. The Council reported directly to the President of the university. 

 In 1955, the Council was brought under the administration of the College of Fine and Applied Arts. 

 In 1959 the name was changed to Small Homes Council-Building Research Council. 

This
 In 1967 we moved to our present building. 

 In 1993, the Council became part of the School of Architecture, and since then has been known as the School of Architecture-Building Research Council. 

The Council's program of research, publication, public service and education was designed to help not only prospective homeowners, but also all in the building industry who were interested in improved house design and construction architects, engineers, contractors, builders, manufacturers, and building material dealers.

Former Directors

The present Chair of the School of Architecture-Building Research Council,  James R Anderson , is preceded by only four directors, one Interim Director, and one Chair. 

Past directors went on to hold important positions in the construction industry. They served as Executive Directors of the American Institute of Architects, the American Society for Testing and Materials, the Building Research Institute and the Building Research Advisory Board of the National Academy of Sciences.


William H. Scheick served 5 years (1944 to 1949)

  • James T. Lendrum- 8 years (1949 to 1957)
  • Rudard A. Jones- 24 years (1957 to 1981)
  • Donald E. Brotherson- 12 years (1981 to 1993)
  • Alan R. Forrester, Interim Director (1993-1994)
  • Kathryn H. Anthony, Past Chair, (1994 to 1997)
  • James Anderson, Chair, (1997 to 2007)
  • Donald F. Fournier, Chair, (2007 to present)


RESEARCH

The Council's researchers answered many critical questions that would affect the quality of the nation's housing stock.
  • How could homes be designed and built more efficiently?
  • What kinds of construction and production techniques worked well and which did not?
  • How did people use different kinds of spaces in their homes?
  • What roles did community planning, zoning, and interior design play in how neighborhoods worked?

Concrete Floor Slab Laboratory

Researchers studied how warm air heating could be adapted to construction techniques using concrete floor slabs on grade. The Council recorded the performance of several different insulation configurations for concrete floor slabs in the Slab Laboratory. Present day practices stem from these pioneering studies in the late 1940's and early 1950's.

Heating and Cooling Systems

Research was conducted in cooperation with the University's Engineering Experiment Station. Seichi Konzo and his staff studied heating and cooling systems in four specially built research residences. The basis for present-day home air-conditioning systems was invented here. The Council later designed houses to test innovative ideas and how the costs of these systems could be reduced to be affordable in the average home. The book entitled, The Quiet Indoor Revolution by Seichi Konzo tells the complete history of the heating and cooling research done at the University of Illinois. The book was published here at the Council in 1992 and can be yours for a modest cost.

Time and Motion Studies

Time and motion studies were attempted to uncover the most efficient construction methods and designs during numerous construction projects.

Space Use Laboratory

This was a research house designed to permit quick changes in floor plans to test the reactions of users. Many "guinea pig" families lived in several research house versions to test user satisfactions of various floor plans.

Open Room Construction

Open Room Construction was advocated to construct houses faster and more cost effectively, particularly in inclement weather. Following the foundation, the floor framing and rough floor platform (or a concrete slab) were built. Next came the exterior perimeter walls, then roof trusses clear-spanning between the perimeter walls, then the roof sheathing and roofing were applied. At this stage, the house was an enclosed "open room." After wiring and plumbing, the interior finish was applied to walls, ceilings, and floors. The last step was to erect the interior partitions and apply finishes.
This system proved to be faster and more cost effective than earlier typical practices, requiring less cutting and fitting of materials.

Wall Panel System

The wall panel framing system was proposed to the Lumber Dealers Research Council to determine if the typical lumber dealer could compete with the then emerging prefabricated house industry.  The basic panel was four feet wide and could be constructed in a jig in the lumber yard from materials usually in stock. Many houses using this wall panel framing system were designed by the architects at the Council. The system was commercialized under the name LURECO.

Truss Design and Testing

This research identified the Council as one of the first advocates of roof truss use for house construction. The Council pioneered the development of the nail-glued roof truss, a system that used plywood gusset plates. 

When the Council's headquarters was established at its present site in 1967, a hydraulic testing facility was built. New truss designs, including trusses with metal plate connectors, were tested in this facility. The Council's method for nail-gluing trusses was developed in conjunction with researchers at Purdue University.

Lo-Cal House

The Lo-Cal (Low Calorie) house was designed to illustrate how good planning and construction detailing could reduce residential energy consumption. Interestingly enough, no new materials or technology were required. The energy-efficiency difference was in the details, which varied from the standard construction practice at the time. It could be said that the Council staff predicted the energy crisis before it actually occurred. During the late 1970's, when the oil crisis was at its worst, the Lo-Cal House attracted a great deal of national publicity; even a segment on Walter Cronkite's CBS Evening News was devoted to the house.

Moisture Condensation

Moisture condensation produces serious problems in buildings. As construction methods produced more air-tight buildings, moisture condensation and accompanying paint peeling became major problems. The Council published Moisture Condensation in its Circular series to address these issues. Since it was first published, this Circular has sold over 1.3 million copies.

Kitchen Planning Principles

Recommendations developed in these early Council studies form the basis for today's kitchen planning guidelines. The Council's guidelines for locating appliances in relation to counter space led to such commonly used terms today as the "Work Triangle". This work plus other pertinent information was summarized in the Kitchen Planning Principles (5 volumes) prepared for the American Institute of Kitchen Dealers. The Council also wrote the standardized examinations for the professional certification of kitchen designers.

Foundation Systems for Manufactured Housing

This was a project to update a HUD handbook written by Building Research Council about  permanent foundations of manufactured housing. The handbook is a guide to owners and developers who wish to have their manufactured housing on permanent foundations HUD approved.

Housing Quality Standards Mail Survey of Section 8 Residents

The objective of this research was to design, administer and test a mail survey questionnaire of residents of Section 8 housing to assess compliance of the housing to HUD Section 8 Housing Quality Standards. This data was then compared to responses of inspectors to check for agreement with the questionnaire responses.

Green Neighborhood Project

The Green Neighborhood Project was designed to develop a prototype process for constructing environmentally sound and energy efficient family housing neighborhoods that met the needs of the military family. This process was then used at the US Military Academy at West Point. The Building Research Council developed a resident satisfaction survey for use at West Point to determine the importance of the design decisions used in the prototype.

Seismic Risk Assessment of HUD Properties

The Council assisted the Department of the Interior's United States Geological Survey in collecting data to provide information to evaluate the earthquake risk for HUD-assisted multi-family housing. Data were collected from ten different cities or counties across the Unites States.

Recessed Light Fixture Air Flow Tests

Recessed light fixtures allow air leakage from the interior of the house to the attic cavity. This allows heat and moisture to escape into the attic space. Tests were run to determine the extent of this air leakage in various fixtures.

EDUCATION

In its effort to transmit essential information to contractors, builders, homeowners and the public at large, SHC routinely organized a wide variety of short courses held on the UIUC campus and elsewhere.
  • Short Courses in Residential Construction were reports to builders on current work and new ideas in housing construction.

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  • Advanced Schools for Home Builders covered business topics, including planning, construction techniques, and new ideas in home building.

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  • Short Courses for Mortgage Lenders were intended to educate lenders about good practice in design and construction of homes.

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  • Basic Construction and Materials Takeoff Classes aided lumber dealers in preparing materials lists from plans and specifications, and were taught in several other Midwestern states.

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  • Special Short Courses were organized upon request for groups such as Farm Home Administration and the Red Cross.

PUBLIC SERVICE

As the Council established its reputation in the field of housing and building research, more and more people called to obtain unbiased answers to problems. the Council formed its Housing Advisory Service to respond to this need. At its peak in 1980, the Council received around 2,000 inquiries annually. This service has been temporarily suspended due to lack of funds. Continuation of this important service depends on identifying a future funding source. 

Public service activities of the Council staff include writing publications, lecturing, speaking, writing articles for scholarly and trade publications, and appearing on radio and TV shows. 

The Council has also conducted training programs for Federal Housing Authority, Housing and Urban Development, Illinois Department of Natural Resources and the U.S.Postal Service. The Building Research Council responded to the floods of 1993 by conducting flood repair workshops for victims of this disaster.

PUBLICATIONS

The Building Research Council was committed to producing publications that would get research results into the hands of those who need them the most: the home building industry and the public. The Building Research Council has published over 200 publications since 1944. 

 The journals published by the Council have included:

  • the Midwest edition of the Journal of Light Construction
  • the Association for Preservation Technology Bulletin
  • the Building Research Journal, and
  • the Bugs, Mold, and Rot Proceedings.

 

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