Living Model of Stone Architecture

February 10, 2006
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Clad in White Danby marble, the Knowlton School of Architecture at the Ohio State University campus in Columbus, OH, provides an example of innovative stonework for its students

Comprised of 168,000 square feet of space, the Knowlton School of Architecture at the Ohio State University campus in Columbus, OH, is clad in White Danby marble from Vermont Quarries Corp. of Rutland, VT. The building's renovation was made possible thanks to a donation from Austin E. Knowlton, who also served on the design team in conjunction with Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects of Atlanta, GA, alongside of WSA Studio, a local Ohio-based architectural firm.

Robert Livesey, director of the Knowlton School of Architecture, said they had several goals in mind when designing the school. “One of our main goals was to use the building as a model for students and the university to see what is possible with architecture and landscape architecture,” he said, adding that another objective was to create an attractive space where students could learn design.

According to Livesey, the donor requested the use of white marble, and Danby marble was ultimately selected - mainly for its finely grained characteristics. “The grain was very important to us, which is why we chose Danby,” said Livesey, adding that other domestic marbles were also considered. “Vermont Quarries Corp. was wonderful to work with. They were really fabulous.”

After selecting the marble, the architects were challenged to find an innovative way to use the material. In the end, they decided to use the 55,000 square feet of marble for exterior shingles. “Marble shingles are featured extensively around the entrance facade, and pieces of the terrace feature more custom uses of marble,” said Livesey. “In the South Court Garden there are marble benches in slab form because we wanted to show the students how the material really comes.” In addition, the property contains five Georgia marble columns, which the university received in 1997 as a gift from Knowlton.

Livesey said that the installation of the stonework ran amazingly smooth. “We spent a fair amount of money testing the wall system we used for the marble,” he said. “The shingles were put up with clips, so that the marble could expand and contract easily.”

Sissy Wang, project architect with WSA Studio of Columbus, OH - who served as the Architect of Record for the project - graduated from the Knowlton School of Architecture, and was honored to work on the project. She said that a few challenges arose on the jobsite, one of which involved the coordination of all the trades. “We also had to work to keep the design intent while still fitting everything in,” said Wang. “You don't see any exposed duct work, so it is raw, but yet finished. The stonework is basically proprietary. It has never been done this way before with marble. We had to run a bunch of tests and hire additional consultants. That was a challenge in itself.”

In addition, Wang said that the post-tensioned concrete structure posed further problems. “It allows you to create very interesting spaces,” she said. “You can hang slabs and have huge spaces between the marble columns, but it also means you have to bury everything in the floor. The floor is 12 inches thick, and before the concrete slab was poured, everything had to be perfectly coordinated.”

The building now houses 45 studios, 65 offices, a 30,000-volume library, a 200-seat auditorium and a state-of-the-art model shop with CNC machines for mock-up fabrications. “The shop has CNC machines and a welding shop within it,” said Wang. “It is a big improvement from the regular wood shop that was there before. The shop also opens out onto a terrace - through two big glass garage doors - where students can work on big projects and spray paint and what not outside.”

Construction of the building began in June 2002 and finished in September 2004.

“The reaction has been wonderful, everyone loves it,” Livesey said. “It is the most spectacular building on campus.”

In 2005, the Knowlton School of Architecture won a Golden Trowel Award from the International Masonry Institute, and in July it was dubbed one of the top 10 “architectural gems” by the Columbus Dispatch newspaper in Ohio.

“You don't get to work on a project like this often, so I feel very lucky to have worked on it,” said Wang. “Thanks to the university for letting something like this happen. It's really a good thing and helps us to be creative in other projects, instead of always going back to the standards.”

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