Sunday, December 21, 2014



  Minimize


Architecture Dispatch Headlines Minimize


You have to have some sympathy for Bowling Green State University.
 

 
Its new Wolfe Center for the Arts, designed by the internationally admired Norwegian architecture firm of Snohetta, is one of those rare moments in which a public institution with high aspirations has acquired a dramatic, innovative building on a relatively tight budget.
 


The $31 million center houses the university’s Department of Theatre and Film in a gleaming wedge of silver-gray steel that rises out of the ground like a sharp-edged geological outcrop.

It’s a visually stunning object on a dead-flat campus sprinkled with parking lots and Brutalist classroom buildings from the 1960s and ‘70s that have, until now, given BGSU a somewhat bleak visual character. The Wolfe Center is a dramatic new focal point on campus.

Yet the university is unlikely to get as much positive attention as it deserves for this fine project, because the public mood toward architecture has shifted in recent years.

The recession of 2008-09 and the agonizingly slow recovery that followed have cast suspicion on capital-A architecture produced by star designers as a frill associated with the bubble years leading up to the downturn.

Over the last 20 years, Ohio built a sizable collection of buildings by big names including Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, Peter Eisenman and Thom Mayne. Does it matter that the state has another such building? Absolutely.

The Wolfe Center is the first project in the United States by Snohetta, which also designed the acclaimed Library of Alexandria in Egypt and the Oslo Opera House, along with the 9/11 Memorial Museum in Manhattan, scheduled to open in the fall.

The Wolfe Center adds a lean, elegant and very beautiful Nordic minimalism to BGSU and to the state’s collection of important contemporary buildings.
 
 

Katerina Ruedi Ray, director of the university’s School of Art, said the architects likened their design to a giant boulder left behind by the prehistoric glacier that shaped the landscape of northern Ohio. It’s an apt metaphor. The building hits the eye with a mixture of surprise and delight, like an “erratic” glacial rock, albeit a very geometric one, deposited on a stretch of Midwestern prairie.

Inside the main entrance at the Wolfe Center, which faces west, visitors are greeted by a soaring and luminous, skylighted lobby, with a grand staircase that dramatizes the connection between floors and also functions between classes a place for students to hang out and socialize.

The interior is simple and easy to navigate. A symmetrical arrangement of corridors on two levels flanks a 400-seat proscenium theater and a 120-seat black-box theater, both fitted out with the latest lighting and sound equipment. Also inside are dance and film studios, computer-animation classrooms and faculty offices. Many of the spaces, apart from the theaters, are awash in daylight.

On its east side, the building emerges gradually from the surrounding lawn as if it were a natural hillside. Students can ascend the sloping “green” roof to reach a terrace and entryway outside second-floor offices and classrooms, instead of walking around to the west-facing main lobby.
 
 

Despite the building’s surrealistic, faintly sci-fi look, it gives every appearance of being highly functional and economical. Snohetta opted for materials that are spartan but elegantly deployed. Lobby spaces and corridors are surfaced with smooth, architectural concrete or panels of plywood stained in various shades of chocolate-gray.

Thanks to these and other moves, plus a drop in the cost of labor and materials caused by the recent recession, university officials say the building came in a stunning $10 million under the original budget of $41.5 million. BGSU is using the savings in state capital dollars to fund other projects on campus.

Along with public funding, the center received some $3 million in gifts from donors including Frederic and Mary Wolfe of Perrysburg, for whom the building is named, and from Thomas and Kathleen Donnell of Findlay, namesakes of the building’s main theater.

Lest anyone complain that an out-of-town firm is solely responsible for BGSU’s success, Snohetta collaborated on the Wolfe Center with the Toledo architecture firm of The Collaborative.

The project is also part of a $250 million plan to renew the campus, which has included the construction of some very fine buildings by local and firms.

These include Stroh Center, a $36 million convocation center, designed by Rossetti Architects of Southfield, Mich., plus two eye-catching cafeteria buildings: the Oaks Center, designed by WD Architects of Dublin; and Carillon Place Dining Center, designed by Design Group of Columbus, with WD Architects.

Also noteworthy is the university’s elegant new central chiller plant, for which Bostwick Design Partnership of Cleveland won an Honor Award from the Cleveland Chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

The new buildings, together with the Wolfe Center, have refreshed BGSU considerably. The next job ought to be figuring out how to reduce the vast portions of the 1,300-acre campus devoted to surface parking, including a giant lot right in front of Wolfe.

With a few more strategically placed buildings and some great landscaping, BGSU could be truly beautiful.

That’s good news for Northwest Ohio, where the university plays a big role among the “creative industries” that contribute $2.4 billion annually to the state’s economy, a sector recently measured and analyzed by the university’s Center for Regional Development.

Sadly, though, the only thing wrong with the Wolfe Center is its timing. Had it been built in the 1990s or the middle 2000s, it might get a lot more attention.

At the moment, however, cutting-edge design is on the defensive. One sign is that Michael Kimmelman, the new architecture critic of The New York Times, has turned away from the newspaper’s traditional focus on a handful of famous designers to write instead on public housing, the everyday urbanism of the New York City street grid and the social and aesthetic potential of parking lots.

It’s terrific that the ‘Times is broadening its focus to explore environments in which, one might say, the 99 percent live. But it also would be a mistake to ignore the work of brilliant architects because the social and economic climate has changed.

Great architecture is just as important and urgent as it ever was - and should be part of a larger conversation about how all the design professions, from landscape architecture to civil engineering, and shape and reshape cities.

BGSU should be very proud of its new building, and so should anyone who cares about the future of Ohio.

Source: Steven Litt, The Plain Dealer


  Minimize


Privacy Statement  |  Terms Of Use
Copyright 2010 by Dispatch Marketing, Inc.