The Kansas University School of Architecture, Design and Planning might never have had a lecture hall of its own if the school’s students had not built it themselves.
John Gaunt, dean of the school and a professor of architecture, said the finances for an addition to Marvin Hall might never have worked out without the school’s Studio 804 program, a yearlong design-and-build course.
Costs for the $2 million building would have been nearly double if the school had sought an outside contractor, Gaunt said. At the same time, it took several years for the studio to build up its reputation and credibility across the university and the state, both of which had to approve the project.
“It required a kind of planetary alignment,” Gaunt said.
The addition, dubbed “The Forum,” will house a 120-seat auditorium and a commons area that will overlay the school’s previous jury room for viewing projects. With the main construction wrapping up in the late summer, The Forum could start holding some classes later in the fall semester.
Once open for business, the building will end the long-standing annual hike around campus by students in the school’s lecture classes.
“We’re right next to Budig, but that doesn’t mean anything, because Budig is in high demand,” Gaunt said, referring to Budig Hall, home to many a freshman lecture class.
The 106-year-old Marvin, once the engineering building at KU, was never built with a large lecture room in mind. Gaunt began pitching and sketching early ideas of a possible Marvin addition a decade ago. The previous summer he finally went to Dan Rockhill, a distinguished professor of architecture and director of Studio 804, and asked him, “Can you build this forum?”
“It’s not a yes or no proposition,” Rockhill says of the question now. “From the standpoint of could you do it, that was more a matter of the logistics of it.”
And the logistics have been complex, to say the least, for the Studio 804 team.
The Forum had to be built out of the back of Marvin from the second story. It also had to go through university and Kansas Board of Regents approval as well as building code approval through various phases of the project, which caused regular delays for the team throughout the past year.
Studio 804 began the project in the fall. Rockhill’s students have been working with him 12 hours a day, six days a week throughout most of the project. They gave him much of their school breaks and many have stayed on past graduation, even delaying jobs, to see the project through.
“I tell them I don’t think I could have done what they’re doing when I was their age,” Rockhill said. “They have really rallied here in the end to push this thing over. I think they see what an incredible accomplishment this is, and so they feel good about it.”
The building’s design also complicated the building process. Two walls of glass insulate the building and form the facade. The two walls will work together to trap warm air between them in cool weather or usher it out to cool the building in warmer months.
Moveable louvers within the glass walls will let in or shut out sunlight, depending on the temperature and season. Vegetation underneath the structure will help cool the air circulating in the ventilation system.
All this is meant to save energy and win the building a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, Platinum certification, which would make The Forum the studio’s seventh LEED project to date.
The energy-saving features made an already complicated and ambitious project even more so. Gaunt calls it the most ambitious in Studio 804’s nearly 20-year history.
Getting the wooden louvres in was among the “nice milestones” for the group, said David Versteeg, a Studio 804 member who finished his architecture degree this year and is also working on an MBA at KU.
“Once we had all that figured out, it just looks great,” he said. “We knew what it was going to be, but to actually see it, and see how clean it looks and how well it forms in its environment — it really complements Marvin.”