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Students, faculty and community members filled Cartwright Hall with excited, yet academic debate Thursday night after four potential designs for the new Kent State University College of Architecture and Environmental Design building were unveiled following an international contest.
That reaction was fitting, considering Kent State officials wanted the process to act as an educational opportunity for architecture students and local residents.
Four finalists presented their designs for the estimated $40 million project, which will be located between South Lincoln and South Willow streets on the school’s Esplanade walkway, to a crowd of about 800.
“This landmark location makes a strong statement about the inextricable link between our campus and city we’ve called home for more than a century,” Kent State President Lester Lefton said.
The designs, though dissimilar in many ways, all stuck close to certain requirements laid out by the university — notably the need for the building to be a local landmark and energy efficient.
New York-based design firm Weiss/Manfredi, which teamed with Cleveland-based Richard L. Bowen and Associates, adhered to these requirements with a three-tiered building they based on the idea of a loft.
Michael Manfredi said the two firms saw the design as “an ascending loft that somehow transitions from city to campus and campus to city.”
The building, with largely transparent classroom and library space, would have a roof with living vegetation, which is also known as a “green roof.”
Cleveland-based Bialosky and Partners and the New York-based Architecture Research Office also adopted the idea of a “green roof” in their design.
Stephen Cassell, of the Architecture Research Office, said their design has “simple, triangular organization.”
“All three corners create ways to get through the building,” Cassell said.
The design features a “great stair” at the entrance to serve as a meeting space in the building, which would feature a tan brick and glass base, with gray “engineered stone” paneling on the upper floors.
Cleveland-based Westlake Reed Leskosky presented an asymmetrical building that both met and receded from the Esplanade walkway at different points.
“This is not a building just about being inside, but about engaging the community,” said project designer Jonathan Kurtz, explaining the structure’s relationship to the walkway, which winds from the northwest edge of campus to the heart of downtown Kent.
He said the building, which would be three stories along Lincoln Street and four stories along Willow Street, would give pedestrians walking between the two streets an opportunity to view all aspects of the experience of being an architecture student. It also featured large outdoor portico space for pedestrian and educational use.
The Seattle-based Miller Hull Partnership and Toledo-based the Collaborative Inc. presented a design architect Bob Hull said would “put most of the public functions (of the building) right on the Esplanade.”
He said the top two floors of the three-story buildings would be combinations of four large rectangular “tubes,” or studio spaces, connected by three “crystals” of space which could be used for multiple purposes.
The second- and third-floor studio spaces would protrude over the public spaces and the Esplanade below.
“We think it’s a long, timeless building that has a lot of life,” Hull said.
A jury, comprised of two Kent State officials and three outside experts, is expected to select the winning design for the building in February.
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The Leskosky proposal seems to most appropriately address the transition between the campus and downtown by presenting a smartly designed contemporary design that still relates well to the important and prominent location of this academic structure. The scale, material selections and formal interplay of spaces and surfaces are handled with particular skill. It has a dignity beyond what looks to be more "fashionable" designs, which are less likely to age well and stand the test of time. It has a disciplined strength as well as a lively sense of interaction with the site and passing pedestrian traffic. It will be very attractive to passersby and represents superior design in a manner that should add to public appreciation for both the university and architecture as a profession and discipline.