Architecture
6:52 pm
Mon February 24, 2014

Curvy and Green: K-College's Arcus Center Will Be One of a Kind

Construction on Kalamazoo College’s new Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership reminds us why it’s important to measure twice and cut once. Masons on the site say it's one of the most complicated jobs they've ever done.

The building was designed by Studio Gang Architects led by Jeanne Gang—the same person responsible for the Aqua Tower in Chicago. It’s a curvy, 82-story building made to look like the waves of Lake Michigan.

Just like the Aqua Tower, the Arcus Center is one of a kind. Once built, it will be the first commercial cordwood building in the United States.

“The logs each have their own personality, shape, size. It’s meant to kind of represent the people that will be using the building," says Paul Manstrom, associate vice president for facilities at Kalamazoo College. 

'Boy, you're not building a building. You're building art.'

Robert Morris is the senior project superintendent with Miller-Davis. He says building has both convex and concave walls, which makes it a challenge for the masons.

“There’s not a straight wall in the building really,” he says. “This is probably the most complex building that I’ve worked on.”

The harsh winter hasn’t helped. Morris says it took two one-ton trucks about 26 hours to haul enough snow away so the masons could continue working.

“We had that one -35 morning that that was the day I basically closed the site down cause too brutal to even try and work," says Morris. "The equipment wouldn’t even start, so we couldn’t even use the equipment that’s on site.”

But Miller-Davis Senior Project Manager Michelle Wregglesworth says it will all be worth it. She says they’re trying to get the building LEED certified—which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.

“All the wood in the siding comes from Michigan. A lot of the concrete comes from Michigan. So it’s looking at a lot of that kind of thing," she says. "It’s how we deal with waste on a project. So we’re looking at having an excess of 75 percent of the waste materials coming out of the job, having that recycled.”

The Arcus Center will have geothermal heating with a rain garden and native prairie grasses planted on the outside. And as for the three old trees the college had to chop down to make room for the new center, those will be made into furniture.

Wregglesworth says from the community hearth inside to the three windows that overlook the campus, the neighborhood, and the grove; the new center will make a statement.

“It’s really kind of a built sculpture in a lot of ways," she says. "You know there are no two pieces of steel in this building that are identical. That’s unheard of in construction. You know the way we gain efficiencies is by having repetition. There’s zero repetition in this building.”

It may not be as efficient to build, but Morris says it's fun to work on such a creative structure.

“I give the guys a hard time because I tell them, ‘Boy, you’re not building a building, you’re building art.’”