Located in the heart of the University of Southern Indiana (USI) campus in Evansville, IN, the school’s University Center recently underwent a renovation and expansion that incorporated a range of local materials. Among them, the architects specified a unique application of Indiana limestone to form a 100-foot-high tower, which is the facility’s defining element.

According to Holzman Moss Bottino Architecture of New York, NY, the architect for the project, the center is considered to be the “foundation of social life” at the university as well as the surrounding Evansville community. It houses student organizations, two new dining areas, student commons areas and lounges and meeting/conference facilities as well as office space for the Dean of Students and other university programs and departments. Additionally, several student organizations and the school newspaper are located in the facility.

Considering the building’s public nature, a series of focus group workshops involved University administrators, faculty and students throughout the planning process. “It was the reuse of a building, and the university wanted it to stand out,” explained Malcolm Holzman, FAIA, Partner at Holzman Moss Bottino. “During a meeting, I picked up a drinking goblet and turned it upside down, and that became the inspiration for the tower. It is a conical tower, but there are creases that square it up. Although they are not straight lines, they had to read as creases. People on campus call it ‘The Cone.’ You can really see the texture of the stone.”

The design of University Center sought to repurpose local materials from Indiana. “Evansville is an industrial area, and we wanted to use products from the region,” Holzman explained. These local elements include clay pipe — and A-blocks used during their firing — from Can Clay Corp. as column covers and wall cladding; the ends of aluminum ingots — made during the production of aluminum coils for beverage cans — from Alcoa for benches; wooden chair legs from the Jasper Chair Company to create a decorative ceiling pattern above the lounges; and plastic sheeting from Berry Plastics to decorate the walls.

Local material also included variegated Indiana limestone, quarried a couple of hours north of the University by B.G. Hoadley Quarries of Bloomington, IN. “The masonry selection came at the very end of the design process,” explained Holzman. “The stone portion of the 100-foot-high tower reads through to the inside of the building.

“The campus is beige, made primarily with brick and limestone,” Holzman continued, adding that they were seeking a specific Indiana limestone. “We found a scrap pile at Hoadley that had irregularities that showed iron [oxidization] in the stone.”

“B.G. Hoadley typically removes limestone from their Bloomington quarry in 4- x 4- x 8-foot blocks,” said Ben Caldwell, AIA, LEED AP of Holzman Moss Bottino Architecture. “The outside faces of the blocks are rough, irregular, and are usually discarded. [A total of] 328 tons of this discarded material was cut into
2 ¼-inch-high pieces of varying length. The raw quarry faces of these limestone pieces form the new walls of the USI Student Center conical campus tower, including the oxidizing iron.”

Installation details

The stone was installed by Whaley Construction of Bloomington, IN. “We’ve done quite of bit of stonework, and I think I’ve installed every type of stone out there, but I never did an actual tower that recessed back,” said Steve Wilson of Whaley Construction. “It was a very enjoyable job mainly because it was different from your normal long, straight walls. Anything that is different, I enjoy.”

“The conical tower walls are cavity wall construction with tubular steel and structural stud back-up,” Caldwell explained. “Horizontal bands of structural relieving angles at 48 inches on center provide stone support up the entire height of the walls.”

According to the architects, the use of mock-ups was critical in meeting the goals for the finished project. “As is usually the case on our projects, we started with a quarry visit,” Caldwell said. “After selecting the stone, a small stone and mortar sample was assembled to confirm stone and mortar selection. Upon sample approval, a large wall mock-up was made incorporating adjacent materials, to serve as a final check of materials, and more importantly, finished installation techniques and appearance.”

“We did about six mock-ups, and the final one we built right on the site,” Wilson said. “We had 10 people on the job that were laying stone. We did a lot of mock-ups on the radial block and the scratch-face A-blocks. We had 10 to 12 people laying [masonry] all of the time. Sometimes they were on the brick, sometimes the A-Block and sometimes the stone.”

Achieving the desired shape for “The Cone” involved a high level of communication among the various parties on the project. “The unique conical shape required close coordination during design between Holzman Moss Bottino Architecture and our structural engineer — Wilkie Structural Engineering, Inc.,” Caldwell said. “Then, during construction, the steel fabricator/erector and the mason had to work very closely and cooperatively. Note that the conical tower meets the adjacent straight and angled walls at a variety of angles. The mock-up proved invaluable for insuring that these conditions could be properly constructed.”

“The stonework mock-up also demonstrated the transitioning of the stone walls from a curved wall to a straight wall,” added Allison Morra, LEED AP of Holzman Moss Bottino Architecture. “Within the stonework, when these two geometries meet, the intersection actually forms a parabolic arch.”

Speaking of these challenges during the installation, Wilson said that installing stone in this particular application required a different mindset among the masons. “The irregular plane of the wall was something to get used to,” he said. “Most masonry is smooth and flat and plumb, and we needed to get the guys in the thought process of it not being straight, flat or plumb. This is square at the base, and then it steps back 2 ¼ inches every foot.”

In addition to the stone used for the tower, the interior of the University Center features a very unique use of salvaged stone material. “In the midst of our design, they tore down the Orr Iron Building in Evansville to make room for a highway,” Holzman said. Constructed in 1912, the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982, and it was considered to be a landmark in the local community.

“Robert D. Orr was on the board of the university, and there is a building on campus named for him,” Holzman continued. “We took the arch from the building, and we looked for a place to bring it into the design.”

Ultimately, the arch was installed within a two-story space in the University Center. Additional blocks of Indiana limestone were acquired to add to the height of the arch, and matching the new material to the old arch was a relatively simple process.

Now complete, the USI University Center is a source of pride for the school and community as well as the people involved with the project. “The tower has proved to be the iconic focal point to campus that we had hoped, consolidating and symbolizing the new USI Student Center,” Caldwell said.

“Everybody is very pleased with it,” Wilson added. “I was recently on another project south of Evansville, and a lot of masons commented on it. They recognize when you complete something like that.”

University of Southern Indiana

University Center

Evansville, IN

Architect: Holzman Moss Bottino Architecture, New York, NY

MEP & Civil Engineer: Hafer Associates, Evansville, IN

Structural Engineer: Wilkie Structural Engineering, Evansville, IN

General Contractor: Weddle Bros. Building Group, LLC, Bloomington, IN

Mason: Whaley Construction Co., Bloomington, IN

Quarry: BG Hoadley Quarries, Bloomington, IN