Davis-Harrington Welcome Center
25. July 2016
Missouri State University is one of a few universities in Springfield in southwestern Missouri, but it is the largest with a student population of over 22,000. A new two-story welcome center designed by Springfield's own DAKE | WELLS Architecture acts as the university's "front door," aided by a tapered footprint and perforated facade across the upper floor. The architects answered a few questions about the building.
What were the circumstances of receiving the commission for this project?
We had completed a few projects for Missouri State University in the past and had been working to build a reputation for intelligent and clever design solutions combined with a high level of service. Many of those projects had difficult budget constraints or schedules and were mostly limited to interior renovation projects, but we were able to garner a few awards from the AIA for those projects, which helped to solidify our reputation. Then one day, out of the blue, the University reached out to us to schedule a meeting. They wanted us to design a new "signature" piece of architecture at the most visible site on campus. We were thrilled with the opportunity, which, after ten years of business, would be our first new building construction in our own city.
Please provide an overview of the project.
In the highly competitive world of higher education, first impressions are critical. Building on the strength of Missouri State University’s long history and brand image, this new 13,000-square-foot facility serves as the institution’s "front door," welcoming visitors to the campus at its primary entrance. In addition to providing a point of origin for campus visits, the two-story lobby and 100-seat presentation room provide a multi-purpose venue for special events such as press conferences, distinguished guests and networking events. Tasked by the University with providing a "signature piece of architecture," the design solution is both economical and monumental. Originally founded in 1905 as a teacher’s college, Missouri State University now carries the Public Affairs mission in higher education for the state.
The building program is arranged in a two-story scheme, placing administrative functions on an upper level in order to increase the building’s visual presence as it reinforces the campus edge. The scheme considers a future expansion that will relocate existing admissions and registration services to this location, providing a one-stop-shop for new applicants.
What are the main ideas and inspirations influencing the design of the building?
Since the primary purpose for this project is serve as a Welcome Center, the University challenged us to strengthen the institutional brand with this project. And although the use of the logo was a virtual prerequisite, we wanted to infuse the architecture with meaning so that it wasn’t purely an approach to signage. We tend to do a fair amount of research for all of our projects, hoping to find some kernel of information that can inform our design approach. In the case of this project, we latched on to the historical origins of the university. It was founded in 1905 as a Normal School, specifically for educating teachers. So we began to incorporate references to those origins through the selection of materials and execution. A wall of slate recalling the classroom chalkboard provides the backdrop to the building’s entrance and defines a generous reception desk for student greeters. Likewise, the two white planes, one dog-eared at the entry, express their thin-ness, almost like sheets of paper from a composition booklet. And the perforation pattern is derived from a digitization of the cover of that same composition booklet. The subtle abstraction of these elements is intentional. Most people don’t get it right away. But they do recognize the building as uniquely Missouri State University.
How does the design respond to the unique qualities of the site?
The site is located at a newly constructed main entrance into campus along its eastern edge. Our proposal was to strengthen that edge by aligning this new building with Cheek Hall to the south. The angled north facade responds to the main entry point into campus and creates an exterior void space, where a future commemorative plaza is planned.
How did the project change between the initial design stage and the completion of the building?
Many of our earliest notions about the way to approach the design problem were executed; however, there are always challenges to overcome. Our initial concept included more glass at the first floor in order to make the pedestrian level almost completely transparent. This concept paid little attention to the logical arrangement of the program or the building’s solar orientation. In the end, we think the results are even better than that initial concept, because the building responds to these forces in a more dynamic way.
Email interview conducted by John Hill.
Visitors can experience the University through interactive displays on their own, or participate in a guided tour that begins in the lobby, moves to the presentation, then through the linear gallery and out onto campus. Recognizing the capacity of architecture to both engage and inspire, Missouri State University is strengthening its position in the higher education market while staying true to its mission to educate citizen scholars.
We knew that the program for the building was relatively small at merely 13,000 square feet, so we felt it was important to organize the program and develop a building form that is visually larger than it’s program might suggest. This led to pushing the building to the east side of the site and locating the service aspects of the building on its south end, away from the campus entry, with the main building entry point at it’s north end. This approach also allowed us to maximize the building’s transparency at its north end, while the building becomes more opaque at its south end.
The way visitors approach, move through the site, the building, its lobby, presentation room and gallery is designed to orient visitors to the campus, whether through guided tours or individual exploration.
Davis-Harrington Welcome Center2015
Missouri State University
DAKE | WELLS Architecture
Andrew Wells, FAIA, LEED AP
Mark Wheeler, AIA, LEED AP
Bethany Henry, Cara Collins
Hitchcock Design Group
CJW Transportation Consultants, LLC
Kenneth H. Lemp
Gayle Babcock, Architectural Imageworks, LLC
DAKE | WELLS Architecture
Slate (interior and exterior) - Stone Panels
Acoustic roof deck - Versa-Dek
Fiber-Reinforced Wall panels - Swiss Pearl
TPO roofing - Carlisle
Bi-Fold Hangar Doors - Wilson Doors
Glazing system - Efco
Wall tile - Crossville
Precast Terrazzo - Wausau Tile
Acoustic Panel Ceilings - Hunter Douglas + Armstrong
Tile Carpeting/Flooring - Tandus + Waterhog + Mondo
Acoustic Panels - P.E.P.P. Acoustical Wall Panels
Elevator - ThyssenKrupp