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Project of the Week Interview – The Forum at Marvin Hall

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Architect: Studio 804
Location: University of Kansas
Photography: Studio 804

A functional, but uninspired lecture hall might pass muster in a math department, but it certainly wouldn’t fly in an architecture school. So when the University of Kansas needed a new 121-seat auditorium for its School of Architecture, Design & Planning, it commissioned the most innovative multidisciplinary group in town: Studio 804 (a.k.a. the school’s own graduate students). Of course, there’s nothing new about that.

Every year, professor Dan Rockhill and his Masters of Architecture class produce an inventive, sustainable building. But this year, they really outdid themselves with “the Forum” – a light-filled, glass-encased addition to the school’s historical Marvin Hall. Unbelievably, they completed this project, which is built to LEED Platinum standards, in just under a year.

As Rockhill explains, the most impressive – not to mention ambitious – aspect of this design is the ventilated double-walled facade system. In between the inner and outer glass planes, they installed sun-shading louvers as needed to temper the sunlight.

“To track the sun, they are mounted on motorized actuators that were imported from Germany,” he says. “The actuators are controlled by a weather station on the roof.”

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In terms of materials, the Studio 804 students chose Western Red Cedar.

“There is no material that is more important to the aesthetics of this building than the cedar,” according to Rockhill. “An alternative type of metal louvers would have made this room cold, dark, and ugly. This is an architecture school, after all, and people would have hated it.”

For the interior, the students wanted to provide a material connection to the look and feel of the louvers, so they paneled the ceiling with Western Red Cedar – and the lighting results are nothing short of amazing.

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“What the Western Red Cedar does to this building is enhance and temper that light, giving it a warm glow that is just breathtaking,” concurs Rockhill. “It is a beautiful environment for learning, and a real showpiece for our school and university.”

Not only did cedar enhance the auditorium’s beauty, it enhanced the room’s audio quality – something that professor of acoustics Bob Coffeen made sure of.

“The cedar planks were mounted over a sound-absorbing material to create a room that is perfect acoustically,” says Rockhill. “It can be used for just about anything from history lectures to Mozart.”

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