LAWRENCE — University of Kansas architecture students may know the shortcuts across campus better than any other group. That’s because Marvin Hall has no auditorium, and for the past 100 years students have raced to get to their lecture classes on time.
But architects tend to be optimists, and they like to dream large. And 10 years ago architect and School of Architecture, Design & Planning Dean John Gaunt committed a vision to paper. He drew up an addition to Marvin that would contain that place for lectures that the school badly needed as well as a student commons.
“I wanted us to have something that would transform the culture of the school, and bring students, faculty and the public together, to share ideas, to communicate and learn from each other—a place of interaction,” he said.
He frequently shared his drawings with others, along with an audacious idea: that students enrolled in the architecture program’s Studio 804 would construct it themselves.
“It took a decade for the pieces to come together,” Gaunt said.
But they did. Next week students and faculty will begin using the structure Gaunt dubbed The Forum. Even the most challenging part of his dream came true: It was designed and constructed by 18 Studio 804 students under the direction of Dan Rockhill, J.L. Constant Distinguished Professor of Architecture. He has led the program for 20 years.
“This building was by far the most complex that we have ever done,” Rockhill said. “And the effort the students put into the project was awe-inspiring. Building The Forum has been a life-transforming experience for all of them.”
Student David Versteeg touted the benefits of the experience.
“We did everything, from drilling piers for the foundation to roofing to wiring, in temperatures from 10 degrees to over 100. Once you realize the extent of our involvement in the design and construction, it is easy to see experience this class has given us is invaluable.”
Visitors coming into Marvin from Jayhawk Boulevard get their first glimpse of the new commons through a plaster arch that framed an elevator removed decades ago. Gaunt calls the new space "the school’s living room.”
From there people may enter the 121-seat lecture hall and breakout space, built over the spot where KANU’s tower once stood.
The north side of the auditorium is Marvin’s exterior limestone wall, which is still exposed. The spaces’ east, south and west sides are a glass “ventilated wall.” Composed of two thick layers of insulated glass separated by 3 1/2 feet, it has cedar louvers that turn automatically to block the sun and admit fresh air to maintain the temperature while using little energy.
“The ventilated wall is extremely innovative,” Rockhill said. “There are few examples in the U.S. This permits the building to be operated comfortably without air conditioning or lighting throughout the year.”
Studio 804 is an innovative program in that graduate students work on a project for a full academic year, designing a structure for which a site has already been selected. Usually in October construction begins and continues until the project is complete in the spring or early summer.
Starting with very small projects, 804 has built a portfolio that would make any architecture or construction firm proud. They have also built the Center for Design Research as well as the Hill Engineering Research and Development Center on KU’s West Campus. Like The Forum, all of them have been privately funded.
“We have been fortunate in having the financial support of Donald J. Hall, the William T. Kemper Foundation, friends and alumni of the school,” Gaunt said. “Through their generosity, private funding has passed the $1 million mark on our way toward our goal of $1.5 million to cover a construction loan provided by the KU Endowment Association.”
Studio 804 itself has captured national attention for its accomplishments. Robert Ivy, CEO of the American Institute of Architects, said recently, “Many schools of architecture now offer public interest design and hands-on building, but few can boast a curriculum as professionally accomplished as Studio 804 at the University of Kansas."
Gaunt said, “I truly believe that The Forum will become a destination for people from all over the U.S. and beyond. It is not only a testament to the dedication and ingenuity of KU’s students, but a real tribute to the faith that University and Board of Regents have in our students. They granted us special permission to do this project.”
“This building opens doors to new possibilities for the students, for the school, for research,” Versteeg said. “What these are, we don’t know yet, but I have a feeling that many interesting things will come because of it.”
Construction photos, information about the building's sustainable features and making a gift may be found at www.theforumku.info.
Gifts for The Forum count toward Far Above: The Campaign for Kansas, the university’s $1.2 billion comprehensive fundraising campaign. Far Above seeks support to educate future leaders, advance medicine, accelerate discovery and drive economic growth to seize the opportunities of the future.