designLab Creates Enriching Environment for Artists
The article below first appeared in the February issue of Metal Architecture.
Steeling Inspiration from Industrial Heritage
The designLab team in Boston, MA began work to design a new Dance and Visual Arts Center at Seton Hill University project in Greenberg, Pennsylvania in the summer of 2012. The design intends to embody the industrial heritage of its location in a modern and attractive manner, through exposed steel and minimal finishes. designLab focused in on the university’s goal to create a building that was both open and inviting to students and faculty as well as the community of Greensburg. It will house areas for students and community members to study and apply principles of dance, sculpture, graphic design, metal-smithing, clay works, photography, printmaking, drawing and painting. Welding facilities and a foundry or metal casting area also make up the various studios. The center will provide space for art therapy and education studios as well as the Harlan Gallery to display student works and installations.
In the model, designLab focused on maximizing the impact of the structural steel bracing and connection trusses. Those elements were very important to the image and character of the building. Aluminum bar grating was used both inside and outside the building. The team worked with Ohio Grating directly to develop details on how the material would be installed as well as ways to incorporate the best spacing of the bar grating. Team members from designLab made the trip to the Ohio Grating facility to tour their headquarters and become intimately familiar with the material itself. The grating is a key component of the building’s multiple mezzanine level catwalks that take a visitor above the wood shop and metal studios. Even the stairs leading up from the first to second floor are made up of this material – creating a visual connection between the two.
A structural steel stair expressed cross bracing, clad in the bar grating is a major component of the exterior elements. It also transitions into a large sliding door that provides access to the art yard – an industrial factory-like opening that permits delivery of materials and moving large pieces in and out of the center. The entire building will be clad in corrugated metal panels by Atas International.
It was important to Seton Hill’s Arts programs and mission to build the new Dance and Visual Arts center in the Greensburg downtown cultural district, so that the students could engage and interact with the community. In locating the center there, rather than being on Seton Hill’s campus just outside of town the university avoided isolating the artists. The center’s ground breaking took place in July of 2013, construction started in the spring of 2014. Work on the 45,000 square feet center continues to date of publication with a summer 2015 expected completion date.
The loft-like structure located on a busy corner of West Otterman Street and College Avenue in the cultural district of downtown Greensburg, provides a space for the study of various artistic disciplines as well as a way for passers-by to see the creative process in action. Given the size, concept and scope of the building designLab overcame challenges related to budget constraints and timeline demands. The resulting design of a light gray metal-sided building features a transparency and connectivity between the different arts so that students and members of the community can collaborate on projects, easily observe work in progress in nearby studios and expansive windows which offer a vantage point where anyone outside the building can take in an ever-changing backdrop of creativity and expression.
“Artists need a blank canvas to create,” explained Ben Youtz, lead architect on the project. “In terms of designing a space for those artists, we committed ourselves to the master concept of providing transparency and connectivity to the different artistic methods being studied and practiced within the space. Keeping true to that concept provided a way for us to create an inspiring and collaborative environment, where the building itself in no way interferes with the creative process and becomes the ‘canvas’ in which innovation can flourish.”
Taking advantage of natural light and providing ample day lighting for dance studios, the traditional painting, metal smithing, photography and graphic labs was a factor in the design as well. Design Lab crafted the building with north facing poly clear stories to achieve maximum daylight exposure for those spaces.
The building is organized around an exterior art yard. Comprised of four levels set into a slope, one portion of the building is three levels on the high end of the site while the low end of the site sits one level below the upper portion of the site. All the clay, woodworking and metal studios are situated to open up into that yard. The rest of the building looks into the space which provides ample room for larger installations outdoors. It serves as a collaborative space for the students to work together. The art yard is large enough to host events and performances as well.
designLab relied on ArchiCAD software throughout the course of the project. At the outset of the project, the team modeled in 3D using ArchiCAD 16 and has since been working on the model in ArchiCAD 17. Working out of state might have presented a logistics challenge, but the team efficiently overcame it through collaborating with their partner Architect, BSHM architects out of Ohio and Construction Manager, PJ Dick out of Pittsburgh. Youtz credits the firm’s established workflow and practice with using IFC on a regular basis in ArchiCAD in their ability to work well with Revit during the production and design process.
“Working out of state necessitates seeking partners located closer to where the project is located,” said Youtz. “As it happens, our consultant works in different software. As we created a substantial portion of the design and construction documents in ArchiCAD and held bi-weekly job meetings we relied heavily on IFC files to translate the bones of the project between all team members. The construction document phase involved intense coordination and frequent updating and ArchiCAD performed beautifully throughout the process.”
In addition to providing a modern, attractive new home for the university’s arts and dance programs, the Seton Hill University Dance and Visual Arts Center is expected to boost the local economy of Greensburg.