At the Center of it all

Architects, center's staff look forward to opening day

Architects Dale Glenn and Jody Brown can look out the windows of their office and see the construction crews busy at work on their newest project.

The $7.25 million Lawrence Arts Center is a half-block north of Glenn Livingood Penzler Miller Architects, 1001 N.H., the firm hired to design the new building. Glenn was the principal in charge and Brown was the project designer for the new building.

"To me the building won't come into its own until the people and art are in the building," Glenn said.

Glenn and Brown won't have to wait long to see their vision come to fruition. The arts center opens April 8.

The architects became involved with the arts center about three years ago, when the center was thinking about renovating the old Carnegie Library, 200 W. Ninth St., where it had been housed for more than 25 years. When plans for the renovation were scrapped and the center decided to go with a new building in the 900 block of New Hampshire Street, Glenn and Brown remained on the project.

Brown also was the designer for the new parking garage in that block, and the architecture firm is designing a hotel, loft apartments, offices and retail shops that will eventually occupy open land near the parking garage and the new arts center.

Design considerations

When he started thinking about the design for the new arts center, Brown said he approached it as a "blank slate," although he knew the building would need to blend into the downtown surroundings and meet arts center officials' desire for a contemporary look.

Brown decided on a three-level design made of masonry, glass and steel that was inspired by the work of designers Steven Holl and Yoshio Taniguchi and echoed the gray brick and exposed steel of Langston Hughes School, which he also designed.

One of Holl's current projects is the renovation of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Mo. Taniguchi, a minimalist who uses "a clean white box" as the foundation for his designs, is working on the expansion of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

Glenn said the design of the new arts center was a group project, although Brown as project designer receives the credit.

"Everyone in the office had input. It was a project that everyone wanted to participate in," said Glenn, a former architecture professor at Kansas University. "Someone (Brown) then takes those ideas and formulates them and rejects ideas that don't reinforce the big picture."

Brown also had to weigh how he could make the arts center different from the long list of other buildings designed by the firm, including Free State High School, Lawrence City Hall and Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, plus Budig Hall/Hoch Auditoria, the Simons Biosciences Research Laboratories and other buildings at KU.

State-of-the-art equipment

Ann Evans, director of the arts center, said the new building is built "to last hundreds of years" and designed to meet its future programming needs.

The interior features cast concrete floors, white walls, steel accents, black cabinets, a two-story glass-and-steel entryway and electronic doors that will shut automatically if an alarm goes off.

"It's very contemporary," she said.

The 40,000-square-foot building will contain exhibition galleries; a sales gallery; reception and office areas; two preschool classrooms; studios for ceramics, jewelry, printmaking, painting and dance; dressing rooms; a library/writing room; a performance classroom; an imaging studio and darkroom; public meeting spaces; storage space; and a 300-seat theater.

The climate-controlled exhibition galleries have bamboo flooring, white walls and track lighting. The theater has state-of-the-art sound and lighting, a costume shop, a set design space and a three-story fly, is accessible to people with disabilities and has front seating that can be removed to create an orchestra pit.

"We have more and better equipment than the Lied Center," Evans said.

The printmaking studio will house presses that once belonged to the late John Talleur, a KU art professor, and a variety of other smaller presses.

Encouraging quality

The performance classroom will serve as an auxiliary auditorium for poetry readings, performance art and small theater presentations. The room has its own sound and lighting systems and a cushioned floor for ballroom dancing, yoga classes and child-parent movement classes.

The center's two dance rooms are lined on three sides with mirrors and barres and have basket-weave sprung floors. Candi Baker, director of the dance program, said the space is about the same as the old arts center's dance annex at 205 1/2 W. Eighth St., but the new theater and performance studios will add to the quality of the performances.

"Dance is a theatrical experience and can be done in the street or anywhere," Baker said. "But this will raise the level of production values and audiences that will inspire all of us to reach new levels."

Evans said the new arts center would not have been possible if it had not had a public-private partnership with the city: The city owns the building, while the arts center provides the programming. About $4.5 million of the building's cost came from the city; the rest, or about $2.75 million, came from private donors.

"It wouldn't have happened without the city and the city commission, and if we had not done a good job with our programming," Evans said.


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