Kent State University, Design Innovation Hub

Architecture firm: Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, Domokur Architects

Owner: Kent State University

Location: Kent, Ohio

Category: Merit

Project site: Previously developed

Building program type(s): Education - college/university (campus-level)

In revitalizing Kent State University’s John Andrews-designed art building at the center of campus, this project shapes an egalitarian environment that gathers students, faculty, and experts from a wide range of disciplines under one roof. Supporting the university’s maker community in a light-filled and interconnected space, the Design Innovation Hub advances the school’s legacy of creative exploration while offering a flexible framework to accommodate its next generation of innovators.

The LEED Silver-certified hub occupies a 1970s-era building that housed the university’s School of Art until it departed its iconic home for a new facility in 2016. Given its central location, the original design for the building was ambitious in its muscular cellular geometry and expressive spirit, but many of the innovative materials used in its construction had stretched well beyond their useful lifespan. Rather than demolish and rebuild, the team worked closely with university stakeholders on an adaptive reuse strategy that embraces the character and interconnectedness of the original building and creates welcoming creative spaces through daylight and views.

The sustainability message really came through, and stakeholders understood how specific design measures impacted the learning environment. These sensitively integrated the old building in a modern way, with its own flavor. – Jury comment

The new hub realizes the university’s innovation initiative, which seeks to activate communication and problem-solving between disciplines. The 78,000-square-foot building houses labs, makerspaces, and tools in an ideal environment for students to exercise their ideas, whether their focus is on art, engineering, or computer science. It’s not uncommon to find a student studying fashion collaborating with an engineer on wearables, or art majors exploring technological solutions alongside a programmer.

Clad in cream-colored terracotta panels, the hub evokes the original building’s Kalwall panels while offering a more resilient and maintainable envelope. The team's use of glass throughout echoes the transparency of Andrews’ design while broadening views of the School of Art’s new building; the historic site of the May 4, 1970, incident; and other outdoor amenities. From the outside, the hub’s transparent nature offers glimpses of the bustle of activity and making within.

The project differs from a typical collegiate makerspace in that it also contains a significant dining hall that addresses the closure of several smaller and outdated dining facilities across the campus. The amenity draws students into the building, allowing them to create as they break bread together. By working with the existing building’s flow between floors across the gently sloping site, the team integrated new circulation paths and balanced the important separation between dining and studio spaces to shape a vital thoroughfare that hinges on interaction and exploration.

Additional information

Project attributes

Year of substantial project completion: 2020

Gross conditioned floor area: 78,235 sq. ft.

Project team

Architect: Bohlin Cywinski Jackson

Associate Architect: Domokur Architects

General Contractor: Gilbane Building Company

Engineer - Civil: Resource International, Inc.

Engineer - MEP: Scheeser Buckley Mayfield

Engineer - Structural: Barber & Hoffman

Landscape AOR: Knight & Stolar

Landscape Design Architect: Nelson Byrd Woltz

Acoustic: Babich Acoustics


Lori Cappucio, AIA (Chair), SmithGroup, Washington, DC

Omar Bailey, AIA, Shepley Finch, Phoenix

Vince Gonzales, AIA, Seattle Public Schools, Seattle

Kandis Larsen, AIA, Integrus + YGH, Spokane, Wash.

Sindu Meier, AIA, William Rawn Associates, Milton, Mass.

Image credits

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Ed Massery

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Ed Massery

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Ed Massery

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Ed Massery

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Ed Massery