There’s a disconnect that runs through your mind when you set foot inside the Forum, an addition to Marvin Hall, the School of Architecture, Design & Planning at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. The new building, which contains a 121-seat lecture hall, is an elegant box with a double-glass-wall facade. It employs an automated vertical louver system, controlled by a rooftop weather station. Inside, there’s a lush plant wall brimming with ferns and begonias.
Surprisingly, this sophisticated structure was designed and constructed in a little over a year by a group of KU graduate architecture students in the celebrated Studio 804 design-build program, founded by Dan Rockhill in 1995. Many of them had never picked up a hammer before the project began in the fall of 2013. “They’re great kids, but they don’t have a lot of life experience,” says Rockhill.“They get smart in a hurry.”
Built in 1908 of rusticated limestone, Marvin Hall has several classrooms, but none hold more than about 16 people. For years, architecture students traipsed across campus to other buildings for larger classes. Longtime dean John Gaunt (he stepped down earlier this year) dreamed of building an addition on a small site directly behind the school, and in 2004, he even made a rough sketch of a glass box with horizontal louvers. But, given the usual budgetary constraints, Gaunt’s plans seemed unlikely to go anywhere.
Meanwhile, after completing a string of sustainable houses in Lawrence and in Kansas City, Missouri, Rockhill and Studio 804 students began to design and build increasingly ambitious buildings, including two at KU: the 2011 Center for Design Research and the 2013 Ecohawks Research Facility. Both have been certified LEED Platinum.
Gaunt saw his opening. He knew if Studio 804 were to build the new hall, it would cost substantially less than if he hired a conventional contractor. After all, students work without salary, and Rockhill has a knack for procuring donated materials. Gaunt asked Rockhill, “Can you do this?” Without hesitation, he replied, “Yes.” According to Gaunt, who helped raise the necessary funds, the project’s final price was $1.5 million.
To make sure the project would stay on schedule, Rockhill initiated a “particularly cumbersome” approval process involving university committees and state agencies, a few months before the course was set to begin. Then, under Rockhill’s leadership, the studio’s 18 students fleshed out Gaunt’s concept to design a 3,000-square-foot glass-enclosed addition. When they broke ground in October 2013, they were immediately confronted with a century’s worth of buried infrastructure, much of it undocumented. “We had to pick through all of that by hand,” Rockhill says. “It was a little harrowing.”
For the next 10 months or so, Rockhill and his students worked six days a week constructing a building that combines cutting-edge technologies with a rustic heavy-timber frame. With the exception of some mechanical and electrical tasks, they did all the work themselves, from pouring concrete to installing 300-pound glass panels. The result is well designed and seems professionally built, hardly like a do-it-yourself affair.
The addition is elevated on concrete columns, in part because of an existing ground-level mechanical room. But the strategy also helps it rest delicately on the tight site, set against Marvin Hall’s sturdy rear facade. The entrance is through the older building’s jury room, which has been converted into a commons. Two window openings now frame glass doors; one leads to the auditorium, the other to a new jury room. Glue-laminated Douglas fir posts and beams evoke Marvin Hall’s own interior structure and create a turn-of-the-last-century warehouse feeling.
The Forum’s perimeter comprises two separate walls of insulated glass set 3½ feet apart. Vertical louvers of western red cedar fill the cavity in between. The louvers automatically close or open to reduce heat gain and provide controlled daylighting. The facade also has motorized dampers. When closed, they trap heat within the cavity, cloaking the building in a “warm blanket,” Rockhill says. They open to prevent heat buildup. The New York office of Transsolar and local firm Henderson Engineers helped with the facade’s design.
Other sustainable features include a rooftop solar array, a 1,100-gallon cistern that stores rainwater for irrigating the interior plant wall, and LED lighting. LEED Platinum certification is expected.
Ben Peek, one of the students who helped design and build the Forum, is currently working on another master’s degree at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design. Like other Studio 804 participants, he now has a kind of I-can-do-anything attitude. “It definitely made me a better designer,” he says of the experience. In March, Peek attended his first lecture at the Forum when he returned to KU for a symposium celebrating 20 years of Studio 804. “It just blew me away,” he says. “I couldn’t believe I was part of making it happen.”
Size: 2,800 square feet
Cost: $1.5 million
Completion Date: November 2014
1465 Jayhawk Blvd
Client: School of Architecture Design and Planning
Owner: The State of Kansas
Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Architect of record:
Climate Engineering: Transsolar
Other: Schneider Electric, Henderson Engineers, Bartlett & West, Bob Coffeen, Transsolar Climate Engineering, W Carter & Associates Glazing, CCS
Steel Studs: Clark Dietrich
Concrete tube forms: Newark
Joist Hangers: Simpson Strong-Tie
Rectangle and Square Tube: EXL Tube
Angles: Doherty Steel
TJIs and LVLs: Pacific Woodtech
Other cladding unique to this project: Epoxy silicone system – Tremco, Hardie Panels and Hardie Backer – James Hardie
Coping: Hickman Engineered Systems
Sliding doors: Jury Room pin up wall - Krownlab
Cabinetwork and custom woodwork: Studio 804 - Podium
Paints and stains: Permalac – Peacock Laboratories, Penofin – Performance coatings and Penofin
Wall coverings: Jury room wall – Direct Metals, Green Wall – Vaproshield and Sutherland Felt Company and Cope Plastics, Drywall and Soffit Board - American Drywall Company and Holmes Drywall
Fire Rock: USG
Tack Board: Golterman & Sabo
Tapes: Shurtech Brands
Special surfacing: Steel plate floor – Kansas City Steel
Raised flooring: Tate Access Floors and C&C Group
Special interior finishes unique to this project: exposed cedar columns and beams – Cedar Creek Lumber
Fixed seating: Sedia Systems
Chairs: Metro Retro Furniture
Downlights: Sunlite Science & Technology
Exterior: Sunlite Science & Technology
Dimming System or other lighting controls: Sunlite Science & Technology
Emergency Lighting: Cooper Lighting by Eaton
Cistern: Rain Harvesting Supplies, Inc. and Plastic-Mart
Pump: Grundfos Pumps Corporation
Other unique products that contribute to sustainability: sunshade louver wall - Linel, division of Mestek, Inc.
Add any additional building components or special equipment that made a significant contribution to this project: