Text by Katie Gerfen
Walking on the Kent State University quad on a balmy fall evening, Mark Mistur, AIA, dean of the College of Architecture & Environmental Design, came across the school’s marching band. Rather than walk by, he invited the group into the campus’s newest building—tubas, drums, and all—and encouraged them to “play the space.” “The energy that filled that space was simply incredible,” he says. “When they stopped, it took about four seconds for the building to calm down, it was so full of acoustic energy. It was remarkable.”
The structure that the band was playing in with John Philip Sousa–fueled fervor wasn’t a new concert hall, but rather the open studio space in the new Kent State Center for Architecture and Environmental Design. Designed by New York–based Weiss/Manfredi Architecture/Landscape/Urbanism, the 117,000-square-foot facility unites all of the university’s design students under one roof for the first time in recent memory: For years, the departments has been scattered across three facilities—a classroom space, a repurposed gymanium, and a disused dorm—Mistur says, and at the new facility’s opening, a faculty member told him: “This is the first time I feel like we are one college.”
Sited on a plot that connects the main quad to a residentially scaled neighborhood to the east, the building is a four-story brick bar, carefully scaled to match the larger campus buildings without overwhelming the adjacent houses. The architects worked with Belden Brick to create a honey-hued iron spot brick, which was fired in a beehive kiln to create natural variation in the color. “We thought it would be interesting to take a typically traditional material and push it to find a combination of old and new,” says design partner Michael Manfredi, FAIA.
Courses of regular bricks are interrupted with vertical fins made from bull-nosed units. These fins are arranged in what the architects call “syncopated meters.” Bands of fins, stacked vertically on the façade and offset from one another, create an overall pattern that is almost textile in nature and enlivens the façade as light and shadow play across it over the course of the day.
But the most conspicuous exterior moves are not in the brickwork, but rather in the interruptions of it. On the east and west ends of the building, expansive glazing reveals ground-floor public spaces such as a café, lobby, and reading room. Wedges of glazing project from the upper portions of the north façade, and a ribbon of glass highlights an enclosed fire stair that runs diagonally down the south.
Inside, the architects looked to create spaces that best serve all of the design students, across a variety of disciplines. “We created settings, as opposed to spaces, where teachers could teach in different ways, recognizing that how we teach and the tools we use five to 10 years from now are going to be very different from the tools we use right now,” Manfredi says. A vast, three-tiered open studio steps down from the top floor, with glass-lined critique rooms on each level that provide pin-up and review space. The floors are connected by a wide stair on the building’s northern edge, which is peppered with informal lounges outfitted with the firm’s signature brightly colored furniture. “We like warm colors,” Manfredi says. Faculty offices and labs for CNC milling, 3D printing, and more are clustered in a core on the south side.
The layout builds upon “our preoccupation with section and sectional connections, which we have explored in projects like the Diana Center in New York, the Krishna P. Singh Center in Philadelphia, and even the Olympic Sculpture Park in Seattle,” design partner Marion Weiss, FAIA, says. “We felt the idea of a topographic connection that allows all levels to feel like they’re part of a community under one roof would be a compelling way to envision a school of design.”
The difference between this building and those projects Weiss cites as precedents, is that previously the terraced spaces for informal interaction were one piece of a larger overall concept. Here, the terraces are themselves the concept. The aim is to encourage a cross-pollination of ideas between students—desk assignments even commingle studios of different years and disciplines. “As faculty members at various institutions ourselves, we feel you need to have opportunities to see and be seen for the real teaching and learning of architecture to occur,” Weiss says. “Students learn far more from those who are side by side in a studio with them than from the directed instruction of a professor.”
Weiss/Manfredi also took the idea of the glass-enclosed, cantilevered fire stair they employed at the Diana Center and widened it on the southern face of the Kent State project. Not only does the stair provide a relief from the intensity of studio—“it’s like you’ve walked outside,” Mistur says—but it’s also being put to good, if unintended, use. “I routinely walk down and see classes being taught in that stair,” he says.
It is those serendipitous learning opportunities that Mistur hopes the building will continue to encourage. The visit from the marching band spurred a collaboration with the music department, which practices in the building so that the design students can learn about acoustics. The new building is turning out to be more than just a new consolidated facility. It is, as Mistur says, “an instrument for what we are setting out to accomplish.”
Project: Kent State Center for Architecture and Environmental Design, Kent, Ohio
Client: Kent State University
Architect: Weiss/Manfredi Architecture/Landscape/Urbanism, New York . Marion Weiss, FAIA, Michael A. Manfredi, FAIA (design partners); Mike Harshman, AIA (project manager); Bryan Kelley, David Maple (project architects); Hugo De Pablo, Darius Woo, AIA, Julia Schubach, Olen Milholland, Seungwon Song, Michael Blasberg, Patrick Armacost (project team)
Architect of Record: Richard L. Bowen + Associates
M/E/P/FP/Vertical Transport Design Engineers: Jaros, Baum & Bolles
M/E/P/FP Engineer of Record: Richard L. Bowen + Associates
Structural Engineer: Thornton Tomasetti
Civil Engineer: Resource International
Construction Manager: Gilbane Building Co.
Landscape Architect of Record: Knight & Stolar
Lighting Designer: Lighting Workshop
Fire Protection Engineer: Dynamix Engineering
IT Consultant: TEK Systems Design
LEED/Sustainability Consultant: Doty & Miller
Facility Performance/Commissioning Consultant: Four Seasons Environmental
Size: 117,000 gross square feet
Project DescriptionFROM THE ARCHITECTS IN 2013, REGARDING THEIR COMPETITION-WINNING SCHEME:
The Design Loft is a site for new connections. Sited strategically at the hinge between campus and city, the Design Loft forms a new hub connecting the college with the City of Kent. Anchoring the public level is a continuous gallery that opens to the university's new outdoor Esplanade. The gallery is an ascending sequence of spaces that can be connected and reconfigured to support a range of uses and events including a café, exhibition areas, a flexible event space, a reading room, and a resource library. A continuous studio loft forms the heart of the program. Open studios are configured to maximize flexibility to accommodate a growing program and evolving modes of learning in architecture and design education.
The 120,000 square-foot building establishes an innovative center for the design disciplines and creates a new window onto the creative, artistic, and research-based programs of the College. The studio's tiered design informs the building massing, bridging the institutional and residential scales of its neighbors. The massing and materials of the new building reflect the material context of the campus and the surrounding community. A continuous stair on the north façade allows for generous amphitheater steps that connect studio critique spaces and create opportunities for spontaneous discussion. Slender clerestory lights within the critique spaces bring light into the center of the floor and improve natural ventilation. The efficient form of the building maximizes daylight and minimizes energy use throughout. The south façade is activated by a continuous fire stair that connects the studio levels. Conceived as a vertical campus quad, this cantilevered route interweaves the spaces of the building into those of the campus.