There’s a for-students, by-students backstory to the newest classroom building at Johnson County Community College.
The three connected cubes that make up the so-called Galileo’s Pavilion are clad in salvaged glass and school chalkboards. Frosted glass louvers filter the sun on south-facing walls, a defining exterior feature that provides only a small part of the building’s energy-efficient scheme.
Students had been talking for years about making a sustainable, environmentally conscious mark on the campus, said Jay Antle, associate professor of history and director of the college’s Center for Sustainability. Last fall, after the students noticed the work of the student-powered Studio 804 program at the University of Kansas, a match was made, and this new project launched.
Studio 804, a nonprofit design-build project of graduate architecture students at KU, led by architect and professor Dan Rockhill, recently had completed the limestone and glass Center for Design Research near the west edge of the Lawrence campus.
It’s a showcase for advanced ideas in sustainability, energy efficiency and high-style design concepts and techniques. As with previous high-efficiency houses in Kansas City, Kan., and an arts center in Greensburg, Kan., students on the verge of graduation planned, designed and did most of the labor that went into making the building.
When Antle and JCCC students suggested Studio 804 do something similar on the JCCC campus, it seemed like a natural, and the KU students got to work early this year. They crafted a sleek modernist structure with two classrooms, a lounge area and restrooms.
As classes begin Monday, hundreds of students in a cross section of disciplines will work surrounded by a host of new technologies and old standbys in the art and science of making buildings that use less energy and fewer resources. Rockhill expects the building will earn LEED Platinum status, the topmost stamp of approval on the U.S. Green Building Council’s scale.
“For us,” Antle said, “this is a fantastic project to wrap a lot of things we wanted to do in one neat package. Students in a wide variety of courses will be able to ask questions about architecture and high-performance buildings.”
In the new building, an interactive computer screen and explanatory boards introduce students to environmentally sensitive mechanical systems and sustainable features, such as rainwater harvesting and cleansing, photovoltaics, electrical net metering and a wind turbine. Passive and active solar applications are significant parts of the heating and cooling systems.
The three main rooms benefit from abundant natural light. At night the ceilings glow with grids of pinpoint fiber-optic threads illuminated by clusters of hidden high-efficiency LED lights. “Living walls” on the north side of each room bring a mix of plants to the equation, helping to improve air and acoustical qualities.
Each Studio 804 project learns from its predecessors. For one thing, the ferns that dominated the living wall in the most recent Lawrence project did not thrive as well as hoped, especially during extended dry periods. So the medley of plants in the new walls is more diverse — three kinds of ferns, a begonia and some mosses — said Megan Carrithers, a Studio 804 grad who worked on the pavilion and helped Rockhill complete some of the last details a few weeks ago.
The new project got started around the time that the ill-fated West Edge office building next to the Country Club Plaza was due for demolition last winter, and Studio 804 practiced a beneficial act of architectural vulturism when it secured glass planels from that Moshe Safdie-designed structure.
“We knew of the glass before we started the design process and literally designed the building around the glass sizes available,” Rockhill said.
Another fortuitous event involved a multipart sculptural work by Dale Eldred, which had stood on the campus since 1984. “Galileo’s Garden” celebrates science and the sun. It’s situated to trace the Earth’s annual journey, the sun-centric description of which, in the early 17th century, got Galileo Galilei in hot water with his church. After the Eldred work’s temporary removal and reinstallation, it now seems perfectly aligned as a courtyard suite of white elements embraced by the wings of the new pavilion.
Not all has gone smoothly with the building, which was budgeted at $700,000. The campus apparently operated without a utility map, Rockhill said, and during excavation work a water main was ruptured, resulting in an unexpected expense.
Other pieces of the plan came in over budget, and billing disputes have yet to be resolved, a college spokeswoman, Julie Haas, confirmed. Rockhill said JCCC attorneys were told in May that supporting documents from Studio 804 would be ready by the end of August. The funding gap — approaching $185,000 — threatens Studio 804’s existence, Rockhill said.
So for students, the experience provides a lesson, perhaps, in the consequences of miscommunication and another in the often-overlooked summation that ambitious design and building is never easy.
In the meantime, construction at the college proceeds on other projects, all of which are required to be built to LEED Silver specifications, Antle said.
Among the new structures is a facility for the culinary program, which, like Galileo’s Pavilion and the limestone-and-glass Nerman Museum, is expected to continue an aesthetic trend that breaks the college’s red-brick hegemony.
“I love the building,” the Nerman director’s Bruce Hartman said of Galileo’s Pavilion. “I’m thrilled; it’s another iconic building out here on campus.”
Perched on a low-rise mound near the center of the campus, the essay in glass and energy awareness does, indeed, make a powerful statement for a growing school.