Tag Archives: kansas

KU Lied Center Addition

KU Lied Center Addition in Lawrence, Kansas by Helix Architecture + Design, 2011.

The Lied Center of Kansas at the University of Kansas (KU) consists of a 2,000-seat multi-purpose theater with rehearsal rooms, dressing rooms, and administrative spaces. Completed in 1993 per a design by Omaha's HDR Architects, the building is a brick hulk sitting in a sea of parking west of the KU campus. Three years later Topeka's HTK Architects added the Bales Organ Recital Hall (which serves the KU School of Music) on the west side of the Lied Center. Rounding out the architectural context in this patch of Lawrence is the nearby Dole Institute of Politics, designed by ASIA Architecture and completed in 2003; it fronts a large reflecting pool next to the large shared parking lot.

On the opposite side of the Lied Center from the Recital Hall, Helix Architecture + Design has added an educational wing and expanded the lobby and offices. Like the original building, the addition is funded primarily by the Lied Foundation Trust, which aims at making performances, lectures, and educational programs accessible to the people of Kansas. The new addition is anchored by a multi-purpose rehearsal/presentation space that also accommodates meetings, receptions, dinners, and pre- and post-performance activities.

From the exterior the addition fits quite seamlessly with the existing, at least in terms of the matching brick color. Helix eschews the decorative stone that is found elsewhere, particularly as banding on the ground floor. Instead the addition is relatively minimal, basically comprised of brick and glass. The latter zig-zags from the education space down to the new entry, giving a glimpse of each from the exterior. The combination of stepped glass walls (in plan) and angled brick walls at the base gives the impression that the addition is carved from a mass of brick. Aside from this impression, they also make clear where the building access is located.

Entering the addition from the outside, the visitor first encounters some very red carpeting leading to a display on the far wall and the theater beyond; to the right is the education space, visible through a glass opening in the wall with glass doors. Walls and ceilings are folded to give the impression that it's been carved from a white solid; in this sense exterior and interior merge, even though the materials are distinct. But the ceiling's folds are not arbitrary. They conceal vents, cove lights, and equipment suspended from the ceiling. Randomly located downlights give a celestial appearance to the folded overhead plane.

Helix was faced with a bit of challenge, like putting lipstick on a pig, as they say. They made the most of it and subtly sculpted the addition, inside and out, to create an impressive space for appreciating art in eastern Kansas.

Photographs are courtesy of Aaron Dougherty.

Newton House

Newtown House in Lawrence, Kansas by Dan Rockhill.

The houses of architect Dan Rockhill, and his office Rockhill and Associates, are unique products of his upbringing, locale and clients. Being raised on a farm gave him the skill and patience to construct each house in its entirety, or at least the majority of each house, obviously the most individual aspect of his firm. Living in Kansas helps to generate the houses' forms, influenced by both the landscape and the industrial objects created to harness its bounty. Lastly in a seemingly liberal, though ultimately conservative, area of northeast Kansas, Rockhill has found the right clients - or the right clients have found him - to build his contemporary structures in steel and glass. Located west of the college town of Lawrence, Kansas, the Newton House is no exception to these characteristics.

Rockhill's experiences growing up on a farm directly contributed to his ability to build and construct objects. This important aspect of his (unconventional) practice directs their work, while also providing a self-imposed challenge throughout the process. A prefabricated bathtub, for example, may save money and time, but it may not contribute to the house's design or levitate the bathroom artistically and experientially. It is the architect's belief that art extends from the process of making; it "unconsciously blossoms from the labor of the hand", in his words. A belief with roots in Native American tradition, where art is not distinct from craft or life for that matter, Rockhill's constructed houses give a sense of their making, imbuing them with a feeling that is seldom achieved in typical residential construction.

The Newton House's simple rectilinear form recalls the industrial train cars of the region, especially through the continuous louvers shading the interior through the large openings. These exterior shelves help to give the house a weight, as it hugs the natural prairie ground of its surroundings. Inside, arched trusses span the length of the exterior and continue throughout the whole house, consistent elements apparent above the partial height partitions that divide the large, long space. Although the rough, industrial materials from the exterior come inside, their presence is limited to the ceiling so the overall effect is a light-filled, calming interior, reminiscent of Australian Glenn Murcutt's houses.

Rockhill's teaching at the University of Kansas and supervision of Studio 804, a graduate program at the school where students build their own house designs for needy families, give him a presence in the town of Lawrence that is important, yet curiously misunderstood. Residents of the town, and the local paper, backlash against his designs, strange in a town that prides itself on liberal thinking. Much like San Francisco, this liberal nature does not extend to the built environment, so any attempt to imbue contemporary architecture into the town is a fight. Finding the right client, who will fight along with the architect, is important, and the Newton's "love for modern architecture...played a significant role in the success of this project," according to the architect.

Flyover Country

Flyover Country

Flyover Country in Kansas by Stan Herd.

The following text is an excerpt of Flyover Country by crop artist Stan Herd, featured in Oz Volume 19.

A Kansas farm child discovers the world one small intimate detail at a time. When encountered for the first time, a sparrow is as fascinating as the universe. Without majestic mountains or postcard sea coasts for comparison we are forced to focus on subtle detail. Early memories of summers spent roaming the cottonwood strewn valley we call "the pasture" just up over the rise west of our farmhouse are still vivid. Those adventures reveal an abundance of discoveries unending in their uniqueness.

Each season brings new creatures to bluff creek sandbars which trickle through the valley most of the year. Particularly hot dry summers find the stream disappearing altogether except for an occasional deep hole where disappearing livestock and wild animals shared dwindling resources. Every few years a rumbling flood of water rushes down from the north depositing crooked limbs and an odd assortment of debris high up on the ancient cottonwoods.

A prairie is a natural ecosystem, which has evolved over the millennia, with grasses the most visible species. Teachers like prairie plant specialist Kelly Kindsher remind us that we are driving past things we should know something about. [Farm researcher] Wes Jackson suggests that "we cannot know what we stand for, until we know what we stand on."

To date I have been unsuccessful in pursuit of the second portrait in the series. In the few years since the first work I have heard stories of at least two tribes of native people whose time is running out, one in the South American Amazon and the Kaw tribe, native to Kansas, with only two old men of full blood left.

Like many of you, I am hopeful that my work makes some difference. I am less strident in presuming that my art can change the world. I am, however, left with one simple conclusion -- that art, agriculture and architecture all have in common a need to mine the "essence of place": to fully understand place and to ethically manipulate it. It takes great commitment to view a meadow of native grasses with the focus of a child...one intimate detail at a time.