Behind the Design:

Ogden Weber Applied Technology College
ajc architects

BEST: Learn
BEST of the BEST - Overall Winner

43,605 SF, Remodel/Renovation/Improvement, Education

Architect and Owner Team Members: 
Jill A. Jones, AIA, LEED® AP BD+C, Principal-in-Charge ajc architects; Steve Simmons, AIA, Project Architect ajc architects; Heber Slabbert, AIA, Project Manager ajc architects; Kyra M. Bell, IIDA, NCIDQ, Interior Design formerly ajc architects; Kent Rigby, AIA, Quality Assurance Architect ajc architects; Wm. Elledge Bowers III, Specifications Architect ajc architects; State of Utah; Matt Boyer, DFCM Project Manager

Consultant Team Members:
Civil – Coury Morris, PE, Great Basin Engineering
Structural – Zachary Hansen, SE, ARW Engineers
MECHANICAL – Steve Connor, PE, Colvin Engineering Associates
Electrical – Kit Farley, Project Manager, Envision Engineering
Cost Estimating – Kris Larson, CPE, Construction Control Corp.

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Project Description:

The design vision for the OWATC Bay 2 improvement called for the integration of the latest high-tech labs within a vintage WWII structure which is composed of wood trusses and columns supporting a large open volume. The new spaces now serve OWATC’s composites program, the NDI (Non-Destructive Inspections) program and provides additional flex space for the future technical programs.

 
 

 
 Steve Simmons, AIA

Steve Simmons, AIA

 Heber Slabbert, AIA

Heber Slabbert, AIA

 

Interviewed by Carolyn Matthews, IIDA IMC VP of Communications

Carolyn: In your project description you talk about the juxtaposition of the old and hand-crafted parts of the design and new precision and machine crafted parts of the design. Can you give a specific example within the space of where you thought that juxtaposition was really successful?

Heber: For me it’s just that you don’t get projects like this one with this kind of guts. It’s a beautiful example of a WW2 building and for me these wood beams and columns were the main pieces that attracted. We have these beautiful very simple metal panels that wrap and are very light almost are floating up against the existing wood. As it evolved we didn't want to cover up the structure and we didn't want to hide it.

Steve: The other thing that's really important, that I think we kind of forgot about, is that it was very dark in the space when we started. And these metal panels actually reflect a lot of light, and they actually help the space a lot by reflecting the natural daylight.

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H: You've got this main existing truss then you have this new light wrap of metal and then right behind that your duct work, but behind that is another deep layer - the trusses that are on that lower level back there. And so we put lighting in those back trusses to make them stick out and because of that you get to see those deeper layers more clearly. You see all of these layers and when you're looking through you think 'what’s going in there’ and that's my favorite part.

S: Yeah and it’s just taking contemporary materials and detailing them in a really meaningful may.

H: Materials have evolved, if you look at the existing columns where you have these bolts that are like as big as a fist or a foot and you got these big heavy overkill connections and then on our new metal panels with the steel it’s very clean has this really small amount of detail. It’s this contrast; the over engineered beautiful structure versus almost invisible fasteners on the new materials that makes it really nice.

 C: Designing labs is something that we don’t get to do every day. What were some things that you either learned from that process, or carried into the design of the rest of the space?

S: We approached the whole space as a teaching environment and also as a multi-generational space. We wanted that whole space to be focused on learning and the psychology of learning. It's highly transparent, and this way the instructors can have their eyes on the students. We also integrated back painted glass walls which are meant to be a learning environment so you can write on it and so you have these impromptu learning spaces. The lounge is there for the same reason, it’s another place to learn, its informal learning, so as you pass your instructor you can grab them and talk, or your friends and say hey I need help on this, and so every space is kind of meant to be used as a breakout space to supplement the lab, but the layout of the labs themselves are very much equipment driven.

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H: This building was the perfect setting for this lab. Right in the middle of that space is a double high volume and to me it's like a cathedral of technology, you have light pouring down through this upper clerestory into this big open tech lab and then you've got wings with these little studies and nooks and spaces that we've built in. After all of this I think it starts to become something different than just a lab.

S: For me when we talk about the equipment in a couple of instances we've tried to screen the equipment but in retrospect I want to say that we shouldn't have done that. We almost went through more gymnastics to screen the equipment and now it’s like just show the equipment for what it is, it has its own function which is great.

C: You have this network graphic symbol that repeats in a couple places in the design. Can you explain the development of this graphic, where this motif came from, and what it symbolizes?

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S: For us it’s asking “what is the essence?”, then taking that essence and abstracting it so that it is really what they are about, without it being obvious like showing a car tire or motorbike part that is manufactured through these composite processes. 

H: This graphic is actually some of the chemical itself. It's an abstraction of the chemical bonds in composite material that they work with. We found visuals of some of those chemical bonds and made an abstraction, and then abstracted that further, and then layered them over each other and it gave what we felt like was a kind of deep understanding of what they were actually playing with.

C: What kind of software did you use to create the graphic?

H: We created it in house and used adobe suite. Well, before Adobe we actually modeled the chemical bonds in 3D with Sketchup, and then we found the 2D view that we liked through that process and exported that into adobe.

H: I have to say, we love our clients on this project. They trusted us and when we showed them something and explained it they always said 'we weren't expecting that but that’s kind of cool, let’s go with it.' As long as we could validate the design and walk them through the process, when it came down to it they said okay, let’s do that.

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S: Another fun graphic part of the design was the wayfinding. That came during construction, before then we didn't know what we were going to do. There are these painted lines that run through the entire project leading you from one space to the next.

H: I thought there was no way the clients were going to go for this, there is no way they're going to say yes to that, but we thought it would be really cool and really great.

S: So, we mapped the whole thing out and we had these 3D views.

H: We walked the clients through how it would work where the painted epoxy colored lines lead you through, and the client said, wow that is cool, can we really do that?

S: You can catch it as you walk through, just see glimpses of it.

C: Some of the timber columns are partially painted red, what is that?

S: All of those painted areas were existing except for one. The red paint is from when this was a warehouse and they had to mark their fire extinguishers, and so that’s were the fire extinguishers would have been placed.

H: It seemed disingenuous to strip that paint away, we didn't touch the existing finishes or re-varnish or anything, we left it in its original state.

S: There were several discussions about, you know, do we strip that paint off?  We decided that it is part of the history of the building and we just worked with that, it’s part of the structure.

H: It comes back to that layering over time that we could never replicate, so why mess with it?

S: I mean there were even carvings on the columns from when it used to be a warehouse, and there was some talk about cleaning that up, and we decided to leave it, they’re so cool. People would carve their name or whatever in the columns. We spent a lot of time walking through the space and seeing the lovely colors and textures already in the space. That really did drive a lot of the design.

C: I hope that this project inspires more firms to pursue adaptive reuse, so what would you say to somebody considering reuse vs. new construction?

S: Well I am really drawn to adaptive reuse personally because I like the layering of time. You can’t build this today.

H: That's right; you couldn't build this shell today at all. There is a texture and a quality there that can't be rebuilt. There is this sense of loss because a lot of this design is about contrast and it’s hard to do fake contrast, right? When you get something beautiful to contrast against it’s so much better than trying to fake it, and these old buildings feel so authentic and real.

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S: I think some people would rather just work from a clean slate but I personally like working with constraints and exiting conditions and taking advantage of those constraints. You know, I like taking that shell and doing something with it. Because this space when we saw it on day one it was this dark...

H: Terrible.

S: …terrible space. It was! It really was really bad!

H: Steve’s not just saying that he likes working with constraints. He is the master of embracing obstacles. Part of the problem is that you have to be able to look at it and say yes, this building has some limits, but it has potential too. There were only 5 lbs. per sq. ft that you could add to the structure. You can’t attach anything to it and you can’t add anything to it. It's so fragile that you can’t really mess with it at all. You say I have this shell, I can’t use it, I can’t even touch it or it will break, and that obstacle defines the whole approach of how we did everything inside that space.

S: The metal panels had to be made really light, they had to be light enough to hang. That obstacle, that might seem like a deal breaker, but this obstacle defined our goals moving forward.

C: Any last thoughts?

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S: Basically, the gist of this design was that every inch of the space is a learning opportunity, from the hallways to the meeting spaces to the lounge to this space under the stairs. This was a great project, it was fun. Again it was trying to take raw materials and just reform them and also contrast the existing wood and structure against the new materials.

H: It's tricky with a tech building though because it wants to be flexible, at the same time each piece of equipment is so specialized and so hard to move around its actually impossible to be completely flexible and so that is always the hardest battle between the desire to be flexible and also very specialized. I think that they love their technology and flexibility; they're very open with all of that glass in there. They have really strong control of the space and students feel like the teachers are always approachable.

S: We really focused on layering the space and revealing its existing structure as you kind of walk through it and respecting that rhythm. That structure and then the metal panels create that rhythm. Again, it's about layering the space. The metal panels helped to conceal the mechanical equipment, there's enough transparency that you can still see the equipment but they act as a diffuser. It's taking the old and the new and integrating the two together, so it reveals something when it wants to.