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: It’s not often that you get a chance to work with a building that is as unique and challenging as this one was, as well as innovative clients. It’s a beautiful example of hand craftsmanship from the World War II era with these incredible wood beams and arched wood trusses. To make it even better they have just the right amount of wear and tear to give them some additional character. To contrast those, we designed very simple perforated metal panels that lightly wrap the existing structure… so much so that they almost feel like they are floating up against the existing wood. We chose the perforated metal panels, because we wanted to contrast the existing character without covering it up.

Steve: The other thing that is really important that I think we tend to forget about, is that it was very dark in the space when we started. These metal panels actually reflect a lot of light, and they actually help the space by reflecting the natural daylight from the windows up above.

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H: Layering was also a concept we wanted to take advantage of. There are several layers that intentionally overlap as you explore the space. It starts with the light folding metal planes, attached to the existing wood structural system, and then right behind that the different mechanical systems, and behind that another layer of wood trusses that are lit as backdrop to all the layers. You see all of these layers and experience it differently as you move through the space and it creates moments where you stop and try to see what is going on behind those screens.

S: Yeah and it’s basically 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 steel panels the connections are very clean have 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 successful.

 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, 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 in and of itself. You can write on it and so you have these impromptu learning spaces. The lounge is there for the same reason. It’s a space for 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 meant to be used as a breakout space to supplement the lab. The layout of the labs themselves are very much equipment driven.

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H: This building was the perfect setting for these labs. Right in the middle of the space is a double height volume and to me it felt 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 off to the side with these little studies and nooks and spaces that we've built in. After all the design interventions it has become something much more 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 I would say, just show the equipment for what it is, it has its own functional aesthetic, 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 structures that are a part of the composite materials used in the lab. Like Steve said, we researched the essence of the process and then explored different ways of abstracting those elements into a visual language. We abstracted the elements and layered them over each other. It represented what we felt were root elements of the composite materials that the students manipulate and recombine on a daily basis.

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

H: We created all our graphics and branding in house and leaned heavily on Adobe Software products. Well, before Adobe we actually modeled the chemical bonds in 3D with Sketchup, and then we found the 2D view that we liked the most through that process. We eventually exported that raw material into Adobe to get to our end result.

H: The graphics worked because our clients were so open to new ideas. 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, they were okay with it.

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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. So, we mapped the whole thing out and we had these 3D views. 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. It's 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 dates 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: Steve’s right. There is a texture and a quality there that can't be rebuilt. When you get something authentic to contrast against it’s so much better than trying to fake it, and these old buildings feel so unique 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 existing conditions and taking advantage of those constraints. You know, I like taking that shell and doing something with it. This was a dark and dirty space when we saw it, it was really bad.

H: Steve’s not just paying lip service to embracing obstructions. He is the master of embracing obstacles. You have to be able to acknowledge the building’s limits for what they are. In this case, we were only allowed to add 5 lbs. per sq. ft to the existing structure. You can’t attach or add anything to it. It's so fragile that you can’t really mess with it at all. That obstacle defined the whole approach of how we did everything inside that space.

S: For example, the metal panels had to be made really light, they had to be light enough to hang with minimal attachments. That’s an obstacle that might seem like a deal breaker, but this obstacle defined our goals moving forward.

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C: Any last thoughts?

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 taking raw materials and reforming them and also contrasting the existing wood and structure against the new materials. We really focused on layering the space and revealing its existing structure as you walk through it - and respecting that rhythm. The structure and the metal panels create that rhythm. It was about layering the space. The metal panels helped to conceal the mechanical equipment, however 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.