The University of Kansas School of Architecture, Design, and Planning is home to the highly regarded professional development program Studio 804. Graduate students in the final year of their Master of Architecture program have the option to learn about the design process in its most practical application.

Under the direction of professor Dan Rockhill, students have worked together to create one innovative building per year since 1995. Its long list of accomplishments includes affordable sustainable housing in Lawrence, the first new public facility in the tornado-ravaged town of Greensburg, and a research facility for the KU engineering school.

Until 2014, one thing Studio 804’s tenacious architects-in-training had not done was create something for themselves. Since the 1940’s, the historic Marvin Hall has housed the school, but with no centralized lecture space. Studio 804’s solution: a place for students to learn that exemplifies their studies in sustainability, innovative technology, and striking design— The Forum at Marvin Hall.

Built as an addition to the historic Marvin Hall, the transition space from Marvin to the Forum serves as a student commons, and a new jury room for the review of student projects is housed in the rear of the Forum. In the front of the building is a 117- seat lecture hall, which integrates holistic sustainability and natural aesthetics.


In the front of the building is a 117-seat lecture hall, which integrates holistic sustainability and natural aesthetics. PHOTO: JAMES EWING/OTTO


Smart Temperature Regulation: 

Double glass walls with three feet of space and tall wooden louvres in between them wrap the building. During cold months, the louvres open and light fills the space between the walls, which essentially cloaks the building in a warm blanket. On hot days, the louvres close to provide shade. Simultaneously, vents along the bottom and top of the building draw cool air up into the building, push warm air out, and introduce fresh air into the building.

Soaking Up the Sun (But not Too Much): 

The Forum’s creators made a healthy learning environment by maximizing natural light. Along with the wraparound windows and adjustable louvres, they purchased a projection screen designed for outdoor presentations, so sunlight is welcomed even during multimedia presentations.

While a 15-kilowatt rooftop array is projected to provide the vast majority of the Forum’s electrical needs, the rest of the roof used a white single ply membrane to reflect the sun’s rays, mitigating the heat island effect.

Natural Resource Management: 

At the back of the lecture hall grows a living wall, which absorbs and dissipates sound to improve acoustics and air quality. It’s watered with rainwater collected from the roof, and the excess is diverted into a nearby bioswale, reducing strain on the campus’s storm drainage system.

Benjamin Peek, an alumnus who worked on The Forum, describes how the natural elements created a healthy learning environment. “The green aesthetic is great. A green wall behind you as you have lecture, what could be better?” he says. “And the way you feel inside a wood building is hard to compare to anything else. The way the wood speaks to the green wall makes the space feel healthy.”


In the front of the building is a 117-seat lecture hall, which integrates holistic sustainability and natural aesthetics. PHOTO: JAMES EWING/OTTO


The Forum has physically brought the school together in a building that reflects its values, and the process of its construction has instilled upon its designers a deep understanding of what it takes to bring their ideas off the page and into the world.

Renee Brune, another 804 veteran who worked on The Forum, explains what it meant for the School of Architecture, Design, and Planning: “At the time we all knew that this could be the answer to everyone’s prayers and we could have our own lecture hall. When it was complete we knew it would change everything for the school. The Forum connects the old with the new and opens up that space.”

Peek says that nothing can compare to the hands-on experience he got working on The Forum: “It’s the best learning process. The process I go by now is learning by doing. [Rockhill] is a very demanding professor and I wouldn’t have it any other way. The key words were doing, doing, doing.”

Professor Rockhill says he hopes The Forum shows students that style and sustainability need not be at odds with one another. “Sustainability is often seen as a goal that shackles ones design ability,” he says. “It’s not driven entirely by aesthetics nor is it driven entirely by sustainability. It is the marrying of the two that is the success of this project. That is what I am most proud of.”

The Forum at Marvin Hall is in the process of being LEED certified, and its designers expect it to attain Platinum level.

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