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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.