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From a need to a concept to groundbreaking, and through the Byzantine world of state building regulations, the Kansas University architecture school is getting closer to its first-ever lecture room and commons area.
Dubbed the “Forum,” the extension to Marvin Hall, which houses the KU School of Architecture, Design and Planning, is now under construction. Doing the work is the school’s Studio 804 team, a specialized architecture class that follows a project through the entire building process, from design to laying floorboards.
Built in 1908, Marvin has been without a lecture hall through its entire lifetime, which has meant students had to go across campus for large core classes.
Well aware of the need for a large seating space at the school, John Gaunt, KU dean of architecture, made some early drawings of what such an addition for Marvin might look like. “I sort of hatched this little dream, and we are now about to realize it,” Gaunt said.
Everything in place
Meanwhile, Studio 804 was gaining experience and credibility within the university, with three of its recent projects including higher education buildings at KU and Johnson County Community College, Gaunt said.
Once it designed the Marvin addition, Studio 804 began construction on the $2 million project earlier this fall. It began by demolishing the builder’s yard and prepping the excavation site for the foundation. After a delay while the team waited for state permits on construction applications, everything is in now place to start laying the foundation next week, said Dan Rockhill, a KU distinguished professor of architecture and instructor for the Studio 804 class. Once the foundation is laid, the team “really hopes to hit our stride in January” and start getting the physical building up, Rockill said.
In your typical construction project, the foundation would have gone in well before now. “Usually you just blow and go” to beat the weather, Rockhill said. But before excavating the foundation area, the Studio 804 team had to sift around with shovels looking for random infrastructural remnants: live pipes, broken pipes, electrical wires, former steam tunnels and more. “It’s just a minefield of problems,” Rockhill said.
A group effort
The new addition will use a glass exterior meant to be “contrasting but complementary” to Marvin, Gaunt said. The Forum’s glass walls have another purpose beyond aesthetics. Two thick panes of glass will trap heat from sunlight during the winter to help warm the building, but will circulate the hot air out of the building during warmer months to help cool it. Inside, the lecture room will seat 120 people for classes and presentations. Connecting Marvin to the Forum will be a commons area that acts as a foyer to the lecture hall.
A long process of design, deconstruction, excavation, state applications and, soon, construction, represents a departure from the typical architecture class, and not only because it gets students’ hands into dirt and building materials, but also because it gets them out of individual work and into a group that will be accountable for a completed building.
When all the work is done, the Studio 804 students will have a lot more than a diploma to remind them of their time in the program. As David Versteeg, a master’s student in the KU architecture program, said, “When I actually sit back and think, ‘Oh wow, we’re building a building like this here in Lawrence for the School of Architecture’ — that’s really an amazing project."