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February 18, 2016, by Tom Fernandez

Designing for Architects at BGSU

It’s not every day that architects are given the opportunity to design for future architects.  Recently, this uniquely challenging and rewarding experience came about for SHP when Bowling Green State University (BGSU) hired us to convert an existing 30,000 square foot warehouse into a state-of-the-art learning environment for the school’s newly-minted architecture program.

Working with the faculty and the administration, we began the planning process by studying designs of existing and proposed architectural schools. Collectively, we discovered that to be successful, BGSU’s new school must provide spaces that serve as the following:

  • Catalysts for collaboration;
  • Ubiquitous flexible learning and teaching environments;
  • Spaces that instruct by example;
  • Engage with the community.

Our design process was iterative; winnowing the numerous conceptual designs to a final comprehensive solution. The major breakthrough came when we disengaged the space that defined the professors’ offices from under the mezzanine and the space that defined the lecture and library areas attached to the exterior wall and treated them as two independent volumes of space. These two volumes were then strategically located within the larger warehouse to define individual studio, production and public areas.

Next we moved the facility’s main entrance to the south side of the building to provide a stronger connection to the campus and tech building, another hall that architecture students frequently interact with and visit. As you enter the building, the first thing you see is a transparent work area and hub of activity. The gallery is separated from the studio spaces by a series of tackable pivot walls that serve as a centrally-located collaborative zone and critique space. The hinged pivots also allow for the reconfiguration of the space for students and professors to tune the space to their specific needs of the moment. When the walls are closed, circulation move along the mezzanine wall, separating it from the studios. With the pivot walls open, circulation spills out into the main space, linking the Gallery, Library, Offices and Shop to the studios.

To reinforce the connections within the school we created a continuous crit-wall along the entire length of the east wall, nearly 300 LF of pin-up space. This space unites all four of the undergraduate studios and is visible from virtually every location within the building. By collecting all the creative energy into one space we can see the creative process from the seed of an idea to the final product.

The gallery is strategically located on an exterior wall providing an opportunity to showcase student work and national exhibits. A new exterior storefront allows natural light into the space and affords views out upon a contemplative garden space to be installed in this spring. New openings in the existing mezzanine wall allow natural light from the gallery to flood into the main space.

The new facility is a model for where the school and the profession are headed: seamless collaboration. With areas that can serve up to three or four functions (such as pin-up areas, critique spaces, galleries and work areas), the building provides spaces that primes students for interacting with and gaining helpful feedback from peers and professors.

One of the most rewarding aspects of this project was the opportunity to work in conjunction with the BGSU Architecture program and the University Architect. Together we devised strategies that proved successful in meeting the departments’ core needs and offering students and faculty a holistic, purpose built space that will accommodate change and evolve with their needs for years to come.

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