Style vs. Function

For the last month, I’ve been working on a recreational center for a college campus in southern Texas. One of the dilemmas the design team faced was how to mesh the campus architecture, that is strictly Spanish colonial, with a building that is essentially a large gymnasium. During an office design review, this project generated a lot of discussion due to the discontinuity caused by trying to adapt an architectural style to a building type that it wasn’t meant for. This got me to thinking: when does a campus architectural style start to hurt the campus. While, I think my firm did finally manage to mesh these two ideas and create a nice piece of architecture, there is still one thing that bothers me. The design incorporates large arch glass opening across the front that work well for the purpose of matching the existing campus architecture, but fail when it comes to the function of the building. I say this because several of these windows have to be filled with spandrel glass to hide the locker rooms and mechanical spaces behind them.

This is not the first time I’ve seen the desired “look” of a building result in dysfunctional design on a college campus. At my own school, K-State, they built a new alumni center several years ago. From the main street, Anderson, that passes in front of the campus, you can see three huge arched windows which look quite impressive during the day. But when night rolls around and the lights are turned on in the building you see that those windows that look so impressive from the outside actually have no purpose other than aesthetics. I’m sure most would assume these large windows look into the banquet halls located in the facility, but, in fact, they look into nothing more than the catering hallway that accesses those banquet halls. In case you’re having trouble visualizing it, just imagine a large white wall located 8 feet behind those windows. My question is: where lies the problem? Is it the boards and administration that are so set on having a specific “look” for their campuses that they don’t review the actual use of the building or are these cases of bad design by the architects that fail to resolve the exterior and interior designs?

I don’t want to leave all of you discouraged, so I thought I’d end with a case where achieving a specific style on a campus can be a success. K-State’s Hale Library was first built in 1927 with additions occurring in 1954 and 1970. The result was a building of great discontinuity that looked like a hodge-podge of different styles tacked onto each other. In 1997, an addition and remodel of the entire exterior resulted in a Romanesque Revival building that matched the campus architecture and became an instant favorite of many K-State students and alumni. To see photos of the transformation, CLICK HERE.


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