After Dropping Zaha and BIG, Kent State University Ups the Ante for Design Competition

After cutting a number of international superstars from its shortlist in November, Ohio’s Kent State University (KSU) has turned to a group of four, mostly local design teams to contemplate the shape of its College of Architecture and Environmental Design. But fret not: Though Zaha Hadid, Bjarke Ingels, and Coop Himmelb(l)au have left the party, so to speak, the university is taking the competition for this project — part of a larger $150-million campus expansion — very seriously. Determined to realize a landmark building that will match the esteem of Kent State’s architecture program (currently scattered among disparate buildings on campus), the university is asking four teams, led by Bialosky & Partners Architects, Richard L. Bowen & Associates Inc., The Collaborative Inc., and Westlake Reed Leskosky — all with offices in Cleveland or Toledo — to present thorough design proposals instead of wooing the jury with vaguely outlined schemes and interview charisma. The teams will each be paid $25,000 in advance for their efforts, according to Crain’s Cleveland, and the hope is that this unconventional strategy — a $100,000 expense in total prior to any construction — will add a competitive edge to the design process.

“There are pressures to make the school the best that we can,” said dean of the College of Architecture and Environmental Design Douglas Steidl, according to Crain’s. “The facility should demonstrate what we deal in and reflect who we are.” The project is not only an attempt to build upon the college’s reputation but also an effort to physically expand the size of the program by a few hundred students. The building will also function as a new icon for the entire KSU institution, given its prominent location along a brand new esplanade, another massive project underway that will add a pedestrian-friendly quarter-mile stretch to the north of the campus. Those entering the university from the city’s downtown area will be greeted by the architecture school’s new home. Kent State president Lester Lefton expressed hope that the building will physically express the university’s wish to connect with the city surrounding it.

Photo: The recently completed Roe Green Music and Speech Center at KSU (2010), designed by New York architect Malcolm Holzman.

- Kelly Chan