The Design Instruction Studio is the result of a grass roots effort to bring University level education to the downtown. In working with the University we selected a former steam boiler plant sited between three alleys with no street frontage in a neighborhood located between a historic district and an industrial district. The 7,800 square foot facility had been vacant of use other than light storage for over 80 years. It had no electrical service and no water or sewer service. The floor and roof structure had been severely burned in previous fires and the window and door openings that weren’t filled with brick were collapsing due to the shallow arches. After demolition of fire and water damaged elements of the structure we were left with was a shell that included 4 stone and masonry walls, 2 steel columns, one steel beam, 2 wood columns, 1 wood beam, 40% of the main level floor structure and 70% of the roof structure.

Designing a Classroom for Designers

Not knowing the specifics of the educational program yet, we implemented two basic design strategies to follow or questions to answer as we moved through the design process.

One: How can we create a contemporary space in a historic building without damaging the historic integrity of the building?

Essentially we chose to design the facility in such a way that we put the existing building on display through contemporary intervention. We were able to reveal much of the original historic structure and method of construction in the creation of the atrium space. Much of the newly inserted construction such as the stairs and elevator were pulled pack from the stone and brick surfaces of the existing building in such a way that they provide a sort of tour of the existing building as one transcends; and in cases where new materials abut with existing surfaces such as stud walls and flooring, the new materials were scribed in order to create a trace or mirror of the existing construction.

Two: How can we design the interventions in such a way as to serve to educate students about design, function, and assemblage?

We followed this strategy in two fashions. The first, more passive, we exposed the ductwork, plumbing, and electrical conduit as much as possible to communicate how all of the systems work together. And the second, more active, we used transparent polycarbonate sheathing on the walls so that the students could see what typically cannot be seen. The inner workings of can-lights and stud wall construction for example are put on display. On the alley surface we replaced cast-iron manhole covers with inch thick glass manholes to allow passersby to view not only student and faculty work on display below in the tunnel gallery, but also one glass manhole allows passersby to view down into the mechanical room of the facility. Through this manhole we were able to put the mechanical heart of the building including the sewage ejection lift station on display at the exterior.

The Design Instruction Studio was designed with a beyond-the-walls ideology in mind. Much like with the interactive alley surface, the vertical elements of the studio, such as the stairs and elevator also serve as large format display surfaces. These elements are placed on center with large windows so that the displays can be experienced from the exterior, such as the 15’-2” tall Reddy Kilowatt display. One of the largest impacts the facility has had on the site at-large is its 80 foot tall smoke stack which has been modified for use a way-finding signage.

Today, the Design Studio is an open two-story structure which takes advantage of historic mass walls and southern daylight exposure. The facility provides space for administration, lectures, design studio instruction, a reading room, and unique exhibit space throughout.