Talk about design challenges: How do you merge disparate entities, each with its own branding and public interface requirements, under one new roof? How might the design solution encourage synergies that did not previously exist? And how do you accommodate different but equally advanced technology initiatives within one facility?
These were just a few of the problems posed to the architects and designers at the Philadelphia office of Boston-based Cubellis gbqc when long-time client, Penn State University decided to build its new Outreach Building in University Park, PA. What's more, university administrators wanted answers—and their new building—in a hurry.
Both the client and design team soon realized that the design of the new home for Penn State Public Broadcasting & World Campus would take considerably more thought and time, states John Kohlhas, principal of Cubellis.
"The driver was bringing together a separate Web-based education group and the public radio and TV broadcasting organization," explains Kohlhas. "In order to appropriately accommodate everybody's needs, the project couldn't be fast-tracked. It actually took about a year for design and a year and a half for construction."
When it undertook the $18 million project, Cubellis had already designed several buildings in Penn State's Innovation Park. The firm was familiar with the proposed site for the new Outreach Building because it had been involved in the initial planning of the actual complex. In fact, Cubellis and a landscape architectural firm were retained from the get-go to develop design guidelines for the entire park with an eye toward balancing flexibility, creativity and overall design unity.
Interestingly, the team would now be required to meet those same criteria within the micro context of a single building. Although at first glance the education and broadcasting groups did not appear to be a match made in heaven, closer inspection revealed commonalities that Cubellis used as the foundation for its design. Both organizations embraced state-of-the-art technology, both sought an environment for welcoming outreach to the community, and both had strong creative and administrative sides to their businesses.
"The building tries to express collaboration between units while respecting their distinct needs and identities," notes Kohlhas. At the center of the new three-story 103,000-square-foot Outreach Building is a central building core with two-story atrium lobby and main studio. "The atrium unites the building and affords visual access to the technically exciting facilities for radio and television production," describes Kohlhas. Indeed, visitors know they've entered a high-tech studio the instant they walk through the front door. The lobby itself is fitted for use as a broadcast studio with cameras and a split wood feature wall.
For an academic environment, an open office plan is unique, as is the layout of creative spaces where small team pods are related to production areas. Even administrative work spaces, which face the circular main paths of the research park, are more open than usual because of the atrium, which allows light to reach far into the building. "It's an egalitarian approach; even in work spaces we've kept partitions low so that when employees stand up, they can see out to amazing views," adds Kohlhas.
Cubellis' interior design group played up the architectural concept with a color scheme that underscores the delineation between the two user groups. Dark red walls on the side leading back to each administrative group are a rich counterpoint to the bright yellow curtain wall on the creative side that opens to views of the nearby Mount Nittany. For the building's central core, a very dark charcoal gray was selected; it pops against the bright atrium space and neutral tones were used for horizontal surfaces.
"You get the feeling of clean space; the design is very clean and quite modern," says Kohlhas. 'Purposeful' is another word he uses to describe the interior design. "There's a retro corporate feel on the administrative level, and a no-tie, younger feel to the creative side," he continues. "It's a modern, classic corporate space where high-end donors will feel comfortable, and a high-tech work environment for people who do cool stuff on computers."
In addition to the Web-based curriculum, the Outreach Building also houses continuing education with a full advisory staff on site, two adult learner classrooms, and study areas with computer access. "Distance or online students must come to the World Campus at least once a year for a proctored exam," states Kohlhas. In addition to exam rooms, technology had to be built into student meeting rooms and for a Web-based call center dedicated to answering students' questions.
In fact, one of the objectives for the new building was to take the World Campus completely digital. The architects and designers had to provide just the right balance between bricks and clicks, describes Kohlhas, because Penn State finds that blended learning is the key to its highly successful Web-based education programs.
In contrast, the broadcast unit's technology requirements necessitated building systems that would support a 24/7 operation and a highly flexible telecommunications infrastructure. Studio systems integrators as well as acoustical, lighting and studio design consultants were brought on board to assist the stations' technical staff in evaluating current and future technology options.
"It's a technically robust building," notes Kohlhas, "and the broadcast studio needed consultants who spoke their language. The consultants put together an amazing electronics design that anticipates future needs, and ensures that everything would be installed in the right spot.
"Usually broadcast studios are rabbit warrens of confusing and circuitous little spaces," says Kohlhas, adding that the design team tried very hard to make the production studios easy to navigate by looping them through the back of the house, and keeping the radio broadcast and access to the live studio focal points of the atrium lobby.
Because the public broadcasting unit thinks of itself as a community organization, Cubellis designers made it accessible to a variety of visitors— from adult visitors to instructional school tours that introduce kids to the workings of radio and TV stations. A viewing window is cut into one lobby wall to reveal the radio studio, and the lobby itself is outfitted with cameras so that it doubles as an ancillary TV studio. What's more, the dramatic split wood walls in the lobby and second floor lounge are acoustical.
Though the building is not LEED®-certified, Kohlhas says it was designed with energy conservation and comfort in mind. Raised floors throughout provide data, power and air conditioning systems to open and enclosed offices. Under floor air delivery allows for individual temperature control, and recycled content was specified wherever possible.
The result is a design that works 24/7 for a broad range of employees, students, interns and guests, with enough flexibility for future growth. As both an operations center and headquarters, the facility is a most notable public face for Penn State's outreach. Expressing just the right community image is what Cubellis' assignment and design solution is all about.
Penn State University
Office of Physical Plant
University Park, PA 16802
penn state outreach building
University Park, PA
research park phase 2 developer
PSRP Developers Inc.
266 West Clinton Ave., Ste. C1
State College, PA 16803
architecture + interior design
1617 JFK Blvd., Ste. 1600
Philadelphia, PA 19103
John Kohlhas, AIA, principal
Brendan Vaughn, AIA, project manager
Ulrika Timm, project architect
Josh Otto, project architect
Elaine Ciufo, interior designer
Poole/ Anderson Construction LLC
CMT Laboratories Inc
structural & MEPFP engineering
Associated Engineering Consultants Inc.
Shen Milsom & Wilke Inc.
studio planning consulting
The Lawrence Group
studio systems integration planning
A.F. Associates Inc.
studio systems integration
AZCAR USA Inc.
The Lighting Practice
Jeffrey Totaro/ Esto