The Whitcomb Art Center creates a vibrant new home for Knox College’s art program and serves as a civic liaison welcoming and merging the diverse cultural identities of the neighborhoods and districts surrounding the site: Knox’s traditional college campus, the central business center of Galesburg, and the adjacent industrial warehouse district. The facility integrates Knox College’s studio art and art history departments into a new building that is modern, bright, economical, and anchored in a landscaped courtyard for events and works. Inside, a series of double-height studios, galleries and critiquing spaces foster a vibrant interdisciplinary arts community and program. The program includes academic and support space through a lecture hall, seminar room, various studios, administrative offices and, to tie it all together, an open floor plan with few doors. The central circulation corridor doubles as a critical space and an informal gallery. With an extremely lean project budget that generated a construction cost of just $220/SF, the Whitcomb Art Center necessarily reflects the self-proclaimed rambling and unconventional community of Knox’s art department. In this lean mindset, every design decision contributes to multiple performance goals in a highly integrated way. This building is a performance workhorse shaped to efficiently capture daylight and made of simple industrial materials carefully put together in a surprising and elegant way. Crafted of pre-engineered metal, the exterior blends into the surrounding urban and industrial fabric, eroding the historic implicit boundary between Knox’s academic realm and the messy mindset of artists, fabricators and industrial fabricators. The rhythmic sawtooth roofline, skylights that harvest northern daylight, and accents of reclaimed brick and reclaimed wood combine to create a diligent, ultra-efficient installation that responds while transcending its contexts. historical and industrial. By consolidating the studio art and art history departments, the Whitcomb Art Center plays an important role in fostering a creative, exploratory and entrepreneurial culture. The building accommodates recent growth and brings together the disparate functions of the campus. Open staircases, intimate informal seating areas, and pin-up public spaces encourage collaboration and the exchange of ideas between students and faculty and passers-by moving throughout the building. The dynamism of Knox’s artistic culture and its responsiveness to the surrounding natural environment is displayed by the building’s dynamic facade composed of large sliding panels that serve as sunshades, adjustable with the seasons.
The art department at Knox College holds a very specific and unique set of teaching ideas about educating young artists. Doing physical and visceral things is important in this educational mindset, as is working within self-imposed boundaries, being aware of the preciousness of physical resources, using found materials, and integrating them intelligently into a cohesive assemblage. Being “scrappy” is highly valued here. For decades, the department’s existing makeshift facilities had been neither adequate nor sound, and scrap metal became necessary for even the most basic tasks of arts education at Knox College. The students had been scattered across several awkwardly remodeled campus buildings. More importantly, the department lacked consistent facilities to support its pedagogy and allow its students to thrive. In 2014, Knox College allocated $8.6 million as the total project cost to build a new 30,000 square foot facility to shore up the art department. The design team was selected and set to work researching and developing a deep understanding of the needs and aspirations of the department with in-depth investigations of design strategies and high performance pedagogy. As department manager Mark Holmes recounted: “A day before our first meeting, I sent the architectural team a 50-page self-assessment from the department and was amazed that they had all read it before we met. Throughout our meetings, the team wanted to know everything about our department – our history, our way of teaching, our perspectives as teachers, how students and professors could use various spaces. As the process continued, it became clear that their curiosity paid off with innovative solutions that incorporated both aesthetic and functional concerns. The Whitcomb Art Center completed construction and opened classes in 2017 on time and on budget, and received LEED Gold certification. With the new facility in operation, Art Department Chairman Mark Holmes , summarizes his department’s collective sense of success with the project and what the design team set out to do: “About a year into its life, the building is having a palpable effect on students and the faculty. On the one hand, everyone loves being there – we all spend more time helping out or talking informally with the students and just being interested in light, space and shapes. The amount of daylight is a huge advantage. The building increased the art department’s exposure to the wider campus community, attracting a much larger number of students to pursue art studies who would not otherwise have enrolled in art classes. . The regional arts community also began using the building for special events and community education programs during the summers, as well as seasonal artists in residence who now exhibit and work in the building during the summers. Art student Olivia Keneipp offers this experiential assessment of the project: “The space you make art in is hugely influential. I love how everything is connected and that it’s also very open. It’s great for someone who is committed to creating.”
Project: Knox College Whitcomb Art Center, Galesburg, Illinois.
Owner: Knox College
Architects: Lake|Flato Architects, San Antonio
Associate architect: Klingner & Associates
Structural engineer: Lynch Harrison & Brumpleve
Engineer – MEP: Affiliated Engineers Inc
Engineer – Civil: Klingner & Associates
Landscape architect: Hoerr Schaudt
Contractor: PJ Hoerr Commissioning: BLDD