Constructive development: ‘Collaborative collisions’ at heart of new facilities for teaching, research

By Joel Mathis

What do you call the once-in-a-century redevelopment project that is adding and revamping hundreds of thousands of square feet of classroom and laboratory space to the University of Kansas campus?

Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little has a word for it: “Transformative.”

“Together, these projects have transformed the university,” she said during a November ceremony celebrating the construction’s progress. “Not just changed or improved … Transformed.

The transformation includes construction or renovation of three buildings that will be occupied in part by the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences: the new Earth, Energy & Environment Center (EEEC), which will be home to geology and petroleum engineering studies; the new Integrated Science Building (ISB), which will host work in chemistry, medicinal chemistry, physics and molecular biosciences; and Summerfield Hall, which is being renovated to become a new home for the Department of Film & Media Studies, complete with a new soundstage and high-tech computer editing facilities.

Add to that new apartment-style housing and a new residence hall built on the south side of the main campus, plus a new student union, new parking garage and utility plant, and you get what Gray-Little acknowledges “is the largest and most complex development project KU has undertaken in nearly a century.”

Looking south as the EEEC and ISB take shape. The EEEC is in the bottom left of the photo, and the ISB is visible in the top right. Photo taken May 2017, courtesy of Gregory Baker, Geoavatar drone imagery.

“For our students, this means new classrooms, new ways of interacting with instructors and classmates and close integration of their undergraduate studies with cutting-edge research activity,” she said during a project update earlier this year. “For our researchers, it means a state-of-the-art facility designed to spawn multidisciplinary research and be an anchoring point for collaboration among KU’s research centers and campuses.”

It also means that KU students and researchers will prepare themselves for 21st century jobs in 21st century facilities, after decades in buildings that—while venerable—were increasingly unsuited for the job.

“We have to have top-flight facilities to support the top-flight students and top-flight faculty we have at the university,” said Joe Heppert, associate vice chancellor in KU’s Office of Research. “That’s why it’s critical the institution has made this real investment in the future of research.”


Two big ideas have clearly guided the design and construction process of the EEEC, ISB and Summerfield: Transparency and interdisciplinary collaboration.

That’s why the classrooms and labs in EEEC and ISB feature so many windows; both buildings also have lots of small nooks—at the sides of staircases, in hallways, and elsewhere—where students and faculty both can sit for a few minutes to relax or have a quick meeting. KU officials hope such spaces will provide a spark for innovation.

The view of Allen Fieldhouse from the glass wall in the EEEC. Photo February 2017.

“This is about integration in every kind of way,” said Robert Goldstein, associate dean for natural sciences and mathematics in the College. “One of the things I think everybody realizes is that many interactions take place through collaborative collisions. If people are in the hallway, drinking coffee, those collisions can result in something.”

For film and media studies, the relocation to Summerfield puts them within easy walking distance of other creative disciplines, allowing for enhanced collaborative opportunities with the departments of dance, music, theatre and visual art.

If the construction of new buildings has been transformative, though, KU officials say they want the area to still feel familiar. To that end, new building exteriors have been constructed either using familiar Kansas limestone used on other campus buildings, or with materials with similar colors.

Looking northeast across campus with the EEEC taking its place in KU’s historic landscape. Photo taken May 2017, courtesy of Gregory Baker, Geoavatar drone imagery.

“This is a pretty historic site on campus. We want to make sure that even though it’s a modern science building, it fits onto the context of campus,” Goldstein said of the EEEC, adding: “We want KU to still feel like a park. The walk down the Hill will still feel like the walk down the Hill.”

Of the ISB, Heppert sees it as an investment in the success of the university and its students.

“This will give students access to world-class facilities,” he said of the construction. “They’ll experience things here at KU that, at many good regional institutions, they just don’t have the opportunity to experience.”

He concluded: “The university has made a commitment that we will be a vibrant and competitive 21st-century institution. It’s a very exciting place to be.”


The EEEC is being built along Naismith Drive between 15th Street and Crescent Road. The complex connects two new buildings via an atrium, and Lindley Hall and Learned Hall can be accessed via sky bridges.

This 141,000-square-foot project, built at a cost of $78.5 million—about half from private donations— is actually two buildings: Ritchie Hall and Slawson Hall, built along Naismith Drive between 15th Street and Crescent Road. They’re connected to each other via a “grand atrium” that features a “virtual reality cave,” and to Lindley Hall and Learned Hall via sky bridges, making for easier movement and collaboration among researchers in all of the buildings.

“It feels more like a neighborhood,” Goldstein said. “It’s all connected.”

Ritchie Hall, the EEEC’s north tower, is named after KU alumni Scott and Carol Ritchie of Wichita, who donated $10 million to the project. The building features a 162-seat auditorium that includes round tables and technology designed to facilitate in-class student collaboration. There are also two 65-seat engaged-learning classrooms, and an array of labs, offices and collaborative spaces.

RITCHIE HALL, the north tower, features a 162-seat auditorium as well as two 65-seat engaged-learning classrooms, labs, offices and collaborative spaces.

Slawson Hall, the south tower, is named after Donald C. Slawson, a KU alum and past Kansas Board of Regents chair who died in 2014. His family made a $16 million gift for the project. The hall features the Robert M. Beren Petroleum Center—named for the founder of Berexco Inc., an oil and gas exploration firm—a 232-seat auditorium to be used for lectures, training and workshops, as well as for conferences that will engage students, faculty, staff and collaborators from outside the university.

SLAWSON HALL, the south tower, features a 232-seat auditorium to be used for lectures, training, workshops and conferences.

EEEC will be occupied by sophisticated labs and classrooms; geologists and geophysicists will be joined by petroleum engineers. The buildings include space for faculty and students doing fundamental research in geology, in applications related to both energy and environment. KU’s Tertiary Oil Recovery Program and Office of Innovation & Collaboration will have a significant presence, too. Goldstein expects the combination of diverse disciplines will spark innovation.

“The idea is to put researchers side-by-side who could be interacting with one another,” he said. “We put up as few walls as possible—we make the labs as open as we can—and we try to make collaborative spaces and programs.”

The EEEC is being built on a part of campus that previously served as a cut-through for students hiking from one class in one building to another class a few blocks over. To preserve that movement, the facility also features the “Jayhawk Trail,” an open courtyard that will allow the pass-throughs to continue—and, hopefully, draw the curiosity of students who want to know more about what’s going on inside the buildings.

“One of the things we want to do in the central part of campus is to make our campus accessible to the rest of the world,” Goldstein said. “We think this will be a really beautiful spot for that.”

The building is expected to open for classes in Spring 2018.


The Integrated Science Building is being built just south of Jayhawker Towers. It will provide 280,000 square feet of new space for teaching and research in the sciences.

If the EEEC is big, the new $147.5 million Integrated Science Building is huge: 280,000 square feet of space for teaching and research in chemistry, medicinal chemistry, physics, molecular biosciences and related fields.

“Those teams will be together in the same building, some of them for the first time, and able to collaborate in these facilities in ways they haven’t been able to collaborate before,” Heppert said.

The east section’s basement is a low-vibration area for researchers doing materials and biology imaging work.

“That will really expand our capability to support life sciences research, integrated circuits, and engineering and the basic sciences on campus,” Heppert said.

The ISB (right) sits where the Burge Union once did. A new union (left) is also being built as part of the project.

Faculty in the upper floors of the ISB’s east side will focus on drug discovery and catalysts, as well as other processes that require intensive chemical use.

“We haven’t always been able to do that effectively in some of the 60-year-old infrastructure we have on campus,” Heppert said.

The west side will feature even more labs for research into life sciences, as well as a 5,000-squarefoot “clean room” that will enable experiments on biomaterials and electronics. The central portion of the building includes both an atrium and a 325-student lecture hall.

As in the EEEC, the ISB is built with openness in mind. Classrooms and labs both will feature windows, letting passersby peer in while presentations are made and experiments completed. It’s a feature not found in older facilities like Malott Hall, home to chemistry and other programs.

Like other new construction on campus, the ISB features more windows and open spaces to put sciences on display, as well as encourage more coincidental interaction.

“People can walk through Malott Hall and not know what’s going on,” said Mark Reiske, associate director of Design & Construction Management at KU. “Whereas here, a freshman or sophomore will be able to see research and get interested.”

“It’s a transformative period,” added Jim Modig, director of Design & Construction Management. “Our current science facilities pre-date man’s walk on the moon. Now we’ll be ready to do the science of today and tomorrow.”

Construction on the ISB is expected to finish in time for Fall 2018 classes.


The renovation of Summerfield Hall, a $10 million project, might seem small by comparison, but it holds one big advantage for KU: It brings the Department of Film & Media Studies to the heart of campus—a big journey from its longtime home at Oldfather Studios, isolated from campus on Ninth Street in Lawrence.

There is some sadness at leaving Oldfather; that facility’s future has not yet been decided. But, said Henry Bial, director of the School of the Arts and associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, “We realized we could put millions of dollars into Oldfather, and we’d have a film studio that was state of the art for the 1960s, when the building went up in the first place.”

Instead, renovations at Summerfield give the department state-of-the-art facilities to teach the next generation of film, TV and media professionals the tricks of the trade.

“We’ll spend less time patching holes in a sinking ship,” said John McCluskey, the department’s assistant technical director.

Summerfield Hall: In its new home, film and media studies will upgrade to a two-story soundstage (top) with a curved edge to eliminate corners.

Renovations at Summerfield include the creation of a new two-story soundstage—a substantial portion of the building’s second story was ripped out to make room—with an exterior door to bring vehicles inside the building for some shoots. The building also features a new recording studio, and an adjacent classroom with room for dozens of students to watch the audio production process at work. The audio recording facilities at Oldfather can hold only a few students at once.

“It will really allow us to expand the sound design portion of our program,” said Michael Baskett, the department chair.

Other new features at Summerfield include a large new computer lab and additional editing bays, along with an animation lab and additional classrooms. The department expects to move into its new digs in time for the Fall 2017 semester.

“I’m pleased that both the College and KU realized that laboratory spaces are just as important for the creative arts,” Bial said. “It’s important we give students and faculty the right equipment to do the job.”

Originally published in the KU Collegian, spring 2017