Knox College Whitcomb Art Center

Architecture Firm: Lake|Flato Architects

Owner: Knox College

Location: Galesburg, Ill.

Project site: Previously developed land

Building program type(s):  Education – College/University (campus-level)

Design Performance section diagram of Knox College Whitcomb Art Center. Image: Lake|Flato Architects

It was bluntly apparent that a lean budget would be the controlling parameter of this project alongside pedagogy and alongside high-sustainability aspirations. To create this aspirational facility within budget, every design move needed to serve multiple project goals. The team initiated a kickoff charrette to investigate these goals and seek out synergies between them. This was a truly integrated collaborative process wherein all stakeholders, design consultants, the contractor, and even some anticipated subcontractors and fabricators gathered for two intensive days of visioning, programming, constructibility explorations, and goal setting.    

The goals and strategies that emerged from this charrette exhibited the strong collective desire for a deeply efficient, high-performing, and aspirational building that would be a showcase for the department’s pedagogy and, by extension, a showcase of environmental and resource stewardship. The next task was how to integrate and construct these goals with cohesion and simplicity using the fewest moves possible to stay within budget.  

"This is a traditional form reimagined in a unique and refreshing way. By using economical steel frame and reusing finishes, they made something special, taking a brown field and restoring the natural ecology, done beautifully." - Jury Comment

The building’s iconic sawtooth roof form became the singular key design move in this project to unify and solve all the project’s major goals in one fell swoop. The repeating asymmetrically shaped gabled bay system of the building was developed and rigorously honed specifically to provide the following interlinked features: a hyper-efficient pre-engineered structure using the lowest possible amount of steel; flexible open floor areas in support of the department’s pedagogy of open-ended learning-by-making; north-tilting steeply angled skylights harvesting the ideal quantity and quality of natural glare-free daylight as the building’s primary illumination system; south-tilting large roof planes at the optimum tilt for a planned photovoltaic array to generate the building’s electricity; and a demonstrative set of revealed construction details that celebrate the raw materials that make up the building in alignment with the pedagogic focus on the physical making of things.

Additional information

Project attributes

Year of design completion: 2015

Year of substantial project completion: 2017

Gross conditioned floor area: 49,855 sq ft

Number of stories: 2

Project climate zone: ASHRAE 5A

Annual hours of operation: 3,620

Site area: 73,225 sq ft

Project site context/setting: Suburban

Cost of construction, excluding furnishing: $6,360,000

Number of residents, occupants, visitors: 156

Project team

Associate Architect: Klingner & Associates  

Commissioning: BLDD

Contractor: P.J. Hoerr  

Engineer - Civil: Klingner & Associates  

Engineer - MEP: Affiliated Engineers Inc  

Engineer - Structural: Lynch Harrison & Brumleve

Landscape Architect: Hoerr Schaudt


Margaret Cavenagh, AIA, Chair, Studio Gang, Chicago

Angela Brooks, FAIA, Brooks + Scarpa, Los Angeles

Nakita Reed, AIA, NOMA, Quinn Evans, Baltimore

Z Smith, FAIA, Eskew Dumez Ripple, New Orleans

Image credits

The vibrancy of Knox’s art culture is displayed from the building’s dynamic facade, comprised of large, sliding panels that serve as a sun-shading device, moving with the changing seasons.

Andrew Pogue

The Whitcomb Art Center creates a vibrant new home for the Knox College art program.

Andrew Pogue

Reflecting the self-described scrappy and unconventional community, this building is a high-performing workhorse made of simple industrial materials carefully assembled in surprising and elegant ways.

Lara Swimmer

The building provides a flexible, adaptable, “blank slate” backdrop so users are compelled to bring their own ideas and color.

Andrew Pogue

The courtyard provides a welcoming, flexible space for student gathering, events, and art exhibitions.

Lara Swimmer