St. Louis, MO
St. Louis is a city of brick. That most traditional of materials clads the majority of structures in this midwestern metropolis, including the academic buildings on Harris-Stowe State University’s (HSSU) small midtown campus. But the school’s leaders were open to something different for a new education center they were planning in 2007, and enlisted Adrian Luchini, a professor of architecture at nearby Washington University, to design a contemporary facility to meet the future occupants’ diverse needs.
The building required spaces where HSSU Early Childhood Education majors could attend class as well as observe children, in a linked but separate child-care center that would also offer learning opportunities for parents.
The low, softly undulating structure — prominently located at the entrance to HSSU’s campus — occupies the full area of the site, covering it like a blanket. Its one-story western face, completely glazed with blue-tinted glass, serves as the community entrance to the child-care center on the ground level.
There, two rings — an inner one of classrooms for children aged three months to five years, and an outer one of activity and support spaces — envelop a courtyard, the rather conspicuous hole in the blanket. “It’s very easy to recognize the building when I’m flying over the city,” says Patricia Johnson, the center’s director.
The partially covered courtyard, inaccessible to outsiders, provides a safe outdoor space where the children can play, and filters light into both the children’s classrooms and the HSSU student classrooms on the upper level overlooking the playground. Daylight penetrates all areas of the building, including the generous, double-loaded corridors along the north and south faces of the lower level and on the second story of the building’s eastern half, where HSSU students and staff access lecture rooms, professors’ offices, and an auditorium.
Luchini chose to clad these three facades in bronze polycarbonate. In many areas, only the 3⁄4-inch-thick honeycomb panels, which sometimes span as much as 27 feet uninterrupted, separate the exterior from the interior. In spaces like the auditorium that do not require daylight, the panels, often mistaken for metal from a distance, are backed by a stud wall.
This seamless approach to cladding both the outer facades and the insulated finish surface of the courtyard walls is carried over to the building’s top, where large, circular graphic elements punctuate the otherwise stark white rubber roof membrane. To maintain a pure and sloping roofline, HVAC equipment is concealed in a plenum space, as tall as 8 feet, above the second floor.
The HSSU campus is located in a part of the city that is slowly being redeveloped after years of neglect. For Luchini, the presence of numerous empty lots around the building site — what the architect refers to as “erasures” — was just as significant as its scattered buildings. By blanketing the site’s entire buildable area, the structure literally fills a void (or creates one, as in artist John Baldessari’s paintings/camera images, from which Luchini drew inspiration).
And unlike the tall, solid, brick-clad structures surrounding it, which either recall a more illustrious period in St. Louis’s history or try to recapture it, the new building’s transparent, lightweight materials and gestural form — like a tissue in the wind — speak to an urban condition that can be fleeting, while providing a structure that is meant to last.
HSSU has since hired Luchini to design a second project, to restore and expand an abandoned brick building on its own campus.
Total construction cost: $12 million
Gross square footage: 48000 sq.ft.
Completion date: August 2009
Adrian Luchini ,RA, Principal
408 Carswold Drive.
St. Louis, Mo. 63105
(314)599-058/ Fax: (314)935-7656
Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Architect of record
Interior designer: Pamela Todd, KAI Design & Build
MEP: Promod Kumar, KAI Design & Build
Civil: Matt Siems, Grimes Consulting, Inc.
Other: Audio/Visual:TDR Technical Services
General contractor: Kozeny Wagner
Renderer(s): Peter Elsbeck
CAD system, project management, or other software used: AutoDesk Revit & NavisWorks
Moisture barrier: TNEMEC
Curtain wall: US Aluminum
Other cladding unique to this project: Louvers: CS
Insulated-panel or plastic glazing: C.P.I.
Decorative Glass: Standard Bent Glass Co.
Metal doors: Steel Craft
Wood doors: OSHKOSH Door Co.
Special doors (sound control.): Overly Door Company
Exit devices: Yale
Suspension grid: Armstrong Prelude
Cabinetwork and custom woodwork: Wilson Kitchens, Inc.
Paints and stains: PPG/Sherwin Williams
Wall coverings: Wolf Gordon
Plastic laminate: Chemetal/Formica
Special surfacing: 3 Form
Floor and wall tile (cite where used): Dal-Tile
Resilient flooring: Armstrong Linoleum, Johnsite Rubber, Mannington VCT, Lonseal Sheet
Carpet: Mohawk Karastan/Shaw
Entrance Mats: Construction Specialties
Special interior finishes unique to this project: Motorized Window Shades: MECHO
Reception furniture: Stone Tree Fabrications, Inc.
Fixed seating: Theatre Solutions, Herman Miller
Other furniture (use additional sheet if necessary): Children’s Furniture: ChildGarden
Downlights: Contech, Prudential, Gotham
Dimming System or other lighting controls: Leviton
Other unique products that contribute to sustainability: AV Systems: Crestron/Extron
Add any additional building components or special equipment that made a significant contribution to this project:
Playground Surface: Surface America