By early November, visitors to Iacocca Hall on Lehigh’s Mountaintop Campus will notice that the outdated furniture, drooping drapes and 70’s-era color scheme are gone. In their place will be sleek and contemporary furniture and materials, open spaces flooded with light, and updated technology—all part of an extensive redesign and updated renovation project that enhances the building’s capacity as a conference center for the university and surrounding community.
“Iacocca Hall has always been seen as a prime venue for special events, conferences, meetings and even gallery space, but it needed an update—a refresh if you will—to continue to offer that appeal,” said Mary Kay Baker, director of Conference and Special Housing Services.
Originally part of Bethlehem Steel’s eight-building Homer Research Labs complex, Iacocca Hall was acquired by Lehigh in 1986. The parcel on which it was sited—along with 742 acres of land—was purchased from Bethlehem Steel for $18.75 million.
In 1988, the Lehigh Mountaintop Campus was dedicated. Today, it houses the College of Education, the department of biological sciences, the department of chemical and biomolecular engineering, the Center for Chemical Process Modeling and Control, and the Emulsion Polymers Institute. It also includes the first-floor Siegel Gallery, the Wood Dining Room, the Governor’s Suite, and the Stabler Observation Tower. The dining room and the tower share the distinction of being one of the few places in the Lehigh Valley to provide a clear, panoramic view of the surrounding hillsides and towns.
Iacocca Hall was named in honor of one of its patrons, automobile magnate and former chair of Chrysler, Lee Iacocca ’45, who was instrumental in Lehigh capital campaigns during the latter part of the 20th century. Iacocca Hall had been built between 1958 and 1961, and had undergone some renovations over the years. But it was largely, in the words of university architect Brent Stringfellow, “still a little bit corporate, a bit Bethlehem Steel.”
Now, says Stringfellow, “it’s more a Lehigh space.
“This process allowed us to maximize the appeal of some of the best spaces on campus, with incredible views,” says Stringfellow. “And with Building C coming online in January, this is like a breath of fresh air for Iacocca as we generally see more activity on Mountaintop.”
That process actually began in 2015—before Stringfellow joined Lehigh—when Conference Services worked with Unique Venues consultants on a feasibility study and development of a new business plan. That plan ultimately led to the extensive renovations and investment in the aging structure, says Baker.
“Their work included evaluating the current state of the facilities, interviewing faculty, staff and students, identifying the challenges, and ultimately making recommendations,” she said. “The final report provided very specific recommendations for Iacocca Hall, including re-branding, renovation recommendations, and marketing opportunities.”
A Lehigh team then consulted with EwingCole, a Philadelphia-based architecture and engineering firm, on a refresh and redesign project for the new Iacocca Conference Center.
EwingCole developed a “project vision” that included a cleaner and more consistent aesthetic, updated spaces, more durable and modern materials and a contemporary look and feel, the project managers say. The redesign allowed the team to address lighting and acoustical issues, deteriorating materials, worn finishes, limited functionality of some spaces and outdated technology. Construction—which began in late June 2017—was managed by Kristine Dwyer in Facilities Services and Campus Planning and the work was completed by Boyle Construction of Allentown.
The resulting effect, says Stringfellow, is a “much more contemporary, vibrant and functional space that doesn’t look like a relic from a previous era.”
The project team is sharing the results of this extensive renovation project with faculty and staff at a reception in late November, and with community representatives at another gathering in early December.
“We’re very excited about this project and can’t wait to share the results so that people can be re-introduced to the Iacocca Conference Center,” said Baker, who is prepping for the first event in the new Iacocca Hall on Nov. 3. “We think they’ll appreciate the way this older building has been given new life.”
Editorial Note: All faculty and staff are invited to an open house that will be held from 3 to 5 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 30, in Iacocca Hall.