Kansas University's newly renovated Spooner Hall might not be ready for prime time yet - it has no furniture - but it is ready to help academics understand the relationship between arts, science and the humanities.
Built in 1891, Spooner Hall is the oldest building on campus. It was KU's first library and was once an art museum and an anthropology museum. Now it is the newest example of idea sharing at the university.
It houses the Commons, a collaboration among the Hall Center for the Humanities, the Biodiversity Institute and the Spencer Museum of Art encouraging academic departments to be receptive to outside points of view.
"We hope to engender a way of thinking about what universities do and the way they interact within themselves and within their communities," said Jordan Yochim, assistant director of the Biodiversity Institute.
Organizers hope both campus and city populations take advantage of new facility.
"People shouldn't be afraid to come up the hill, and people on the hill shouldn't be afraid to talk to one another," Yochim said. "We'd like to create a place where it's easy."
Renovations began in March, and the Commons' first exhibit at Spooner Hall opened in October.
The exhibit, which runs through Nov. 16, features aerial photographs from Mary Meader, a pioneering photographer whose pictures of South America and Africa exemplify the message the Commons espouses.
"In the past, there's a history of things being separate," said Angela Watts, assistant collection manager for the Spencer Museum. People "look at geography as not having to do with art history. They don't necessarily preclude each other."
Watts said the exhibit is "something that was taken as geographical record, and we look back at it now and see the beauty of it."
While major projects at Spooner Hall - such as the installation of a bamboo floor and an acoustic ceiling that eliminates reverberation - are complete, furniture, Internet connections and modern AV equipment are not yet in place. Leonard Krishtalka, director of the Biodiversity Institute, said those features won't be installed until funds are raised; he did not know when money would be available for those projects.
Watts said the revamped Spooner Hall retained the architectural integrity of the 116-year-old building.
"When you go inside of the space, you can see all of the beautiful windows," Watts said. "We've been able to play up some of the beautiful features of the building.
"The most beautiful part of the space is the light and use of the old windows and the interesting floor plan that's based on a Basilica model."
Having a physical home base for the first time allows the Commons to create conversation about its current theme of the climate and environmentalism, Krishtalka said.
"The Commons is perfect for certain kinds of events," he said. "It's ideal for workshops and symposia and colloquia and town meetings ... to bring people together from a variety of disciplines."
Having a home base also allows the Commons to spread its message through its physical space.
Now, Krishtalka said, "it's a think and do tank."