Metal Architecture Home

An Inspiring Arts Center

Complex metal building creates connection between campus, surrounding neighborhoods

Whitcomb Dec17 1
Photo: Andrew Pogue

The new Whitcomb Art Center at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., provides high performing academic and support space for the school’s studio and art history departments to accommodate the program’s recent growth. The 29,950-square-foot building, designed by Lake|Flato Architects Inc., San Antonio, also brings together disparate campus functions.

Lewis McNeel, AIA, associate at Lake|Flato was the lead designer and project manager. “Our goal was to make an inspiring, naturally lit and artfully efficient home for this dynamic community of visual artists and makers,” he explains. “The building itself needed to be a high-performing tool to aid the students and faculty in the production of their creative work.”

The Whitcomb Art Center sits on the campus’ northern edge and is configured around a new plaza to develop a new connection between the central campus and downtown Galesburg. Kirk L. Anderson, vice president of P.J. Hoerr Inc., Peoria, Ill., the general contractor and metal building assembler, says the college wanted the building to blend into the manufacturing district on the east end of the campus, and to be designed so people who pass by on the street and sidewalk can see students work as well as the building’s open structure.


Photo: Lara Swimmer

Building Options

Anderson says the company was very involved during the design phase of the project, offering advice on constructability, material choices and cost analysis/feasibility. “We also worked closely with Star Building Systems’ engineers to help with decisions on all aspects of the complex metal building.”

From the very first meeting with the Knox administration, Anderson says pre-engineered metal buildings were at the top of the options for the project. “They wanted the building to blend into the urban fabric just beyond the east end of campus,” he adds, “and desired exposed structure on the interior and a galvanized siding look on the outside.”

Made up of five metal buildings from Star Building Systems, Oklahoma City, the Whitcomb Art Center is comprised of three large bay buildings with two smaller ones that connect them. On one side of the large bay buildings, the roof pitch is extreme and the metal roof panels continue down the sidewalls creating a continuous roof visual. Meanwhile, the roof system on the connecting building consists of conventional construction.

“For the sake of material efficiency, we chose to work creatively with a pre-engineered metal structural system to sculpt a high performing, repeatable bay shape that provides ideal quantities of high north daylighting, south roof slopes optimized for future solar panels, and lofty interior spaces for flexible creative work throughout,” McNeel says. “We were also inspired by the tradition of metal agricultural structures found in the region and on the property next to our site.”

Judge Chuck Wray likes the repetitive nature of the form, and the simplicity of the massing and materials. “It’s just a really elegant little project,” he says. “The scale of the building is really very nice. Nice use of a metal building product system. It has a real clean, simple organization. It’s nicely detailed.”


Photo: Andrew Pogue

Interior Interactions

Judge John Bencher notes how well the project integrates the materials, such as the metal, which is detailed up against the storefront, and up against the wood at the entryway. Those details carry though inside, where there’s a second-level mezzanine, exposed metal throughout, and walls made of reclaimed material. Open stairs foster collaboration and the exchange of ideas as students and professors move throughout the building. Double-heighted spaces provide critique and pin-up space, and a lecture hall accommodates large gatherings and receptions for student work. Program studios are closely paired with support spaces, including exterior work courts, computer labs, metal and wood shops, and film development rooms. “The vibrancy of Knox’s art culture is displayed from the building’s dynamic façade, which comprises of large, sliding doors that serve as sunshading devises by moving with the changing seasons,” McNeel says.

The project, which is on track for LEED Gold certification, features well-balanced natural daylight and views to the outside, which allows most studios to be used without any electric lights on during the day. “Studio spaces and public spaces connect fluidly to each other to encourage interdisciplinary interactions and to make visible a diverse spectrum of artistic working processes,” McNeel adds.


Photo: Andrew Pogue

Agricultural Inspiration

McNeel goes on to say that he appreciates the straight-forward, highly efficient beauty of the metal agricultural structures that exist all over the region. “We felt these agricultural structures are great models for how to make a striking, high-performance work space for artistic production in this particular region’s climate and culture,” he explains. “Our building’s site is also on a new extension of the Knox campus, which sits right next to a district of old metal warehouses and workhorse railroad infrastructure. We wanted our building to reach out and be a bridge between the historic campus and those  more industrial next-door neighbors. Standard industrial metal cladding and roofing helped the building blend into its industrial neighborhood context, and also gave us great functional advantages as part of a high-performance cladding strategy.”

For the project, Houston-based MBCI supplied 15,700 square feet of its 24-gauge Battenlok HS metal roof panels and 15,900 square feet of its PBU and PBC metal wall panels. Additionally, the exterior façade consists of aluminum-and-glass storefronts and curtainwalls from Tubelite Inc., Walker, Mich., and reclaimed wood siding from an on-site building that was demolished prior to construction.

“The three different metal siding panels profiles, metal roofs on the three larger buildings and rubber membrane roofs on the two smaller buildings all required intense detailing to ensure weathertightness,” Anderson adds.

“What I admired most in this project was how well it was detailed,” says Judge Chuck Bloszies. “It looks like every surface intersection was thought out, and the way that the forms go together was really beautifully done. The way it is integrated with the landscape too, I think was terrific.”