- Main conference room.
At 8:00 am, noon, 1:00 pm, and 5:00 pm, Monday through Saturday, the steam whistle at the University of Iowa’s Power Plant blows, punctuating the day. A task performed manually by a member of the staff, the four-times-daily raucous blast has made the plant part of the texture of life in downtown Iowa City. The Power Plant is more than an anchor of the soundscape, however; the facility generates the steam that heats and operates the University on a daily basis. The facility also co-generates about thirty percent of the electric power used on campus. Previously relying on coal, with natural gas as backup, the Power Plant has become a leading example of sustainable operation by introducing the burning of discarded oat hulls, a renewable resource produced thirty miles north in Cedar Rapids, which now accounts for fourteen percent of the Power Plant’s fuel needs.
Though utilitarian in nature, the Power Plant is a formidable example of the possibilities when service architecture is conceived with attention to its impact. Renowned architects visiting the University often cite the building as their favorite on campus, recognizing the combination of its powerful massing of volumes and brick detailing. The strength of the Power Plant is in its variegated composition. While the flues and boilers are interesting on their own and grew purely out of necessity, the functional components of the building refine themselves as they near the original structure at Burlington Street. There, the Power Plant recalls the transept of a Romanesque cathedral. The west end of this remaining original part of the building is crowned with a series of blind arches supported on corbels. Lombard bands, typical of the Romanesque style, mark the two slightly projecting bays, each of which also bears the narrow Medieval loophole windows. The Power Plant and the now vanished Old Armory were the only two Medieval Revival buildings to gain a foothold on the east campus.
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