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April 6, 2011
Originally published in The Photo Issue

“How do you make a piece of architecture about architecture?” Mack Scogin asks. “That’s a heavy-duty objective.” Nevertheless, his firm, Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects, accepted the challenge, designing the consummate teaching tool for Ohio State University’s architecture school: a brand-new building.

Austin E. Knowlton School of Architecture ‘s Knowlton Hall at The Ohio State University
The Ohio State University, Austin E. Knowlton School of Architecture's crown jewel: Knowlton Hall. The structure, completed in 2004, reunites and revitalizes discourse between the architecture, landscape architecture, and planning programs, which had been housed in two buildings five blocks apart.
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Urban planning model in progress
One of the goals of the new building was for it to be an example for the students of each of the three disciplines. For the urban planning students, the task was accomplished by appropriately inserting the building into the "urban configuration of campus," says Robert Livesey, a professor and the school's director during the building's design and construction.
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Austin E. Knowlton School of Architecture ‘s Knowlton Hall hallway
For the architecture students, offering examples of good practices was much easier. "We have big spaces, little spaces, very long spaces, very short spaces, and very tall spaces," Livesey says. "When a student is thinking about a design, they can find some volume or comparable space in the building to look at."
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Austin E. Knowlton School of Architecture ‘s Knowlton Hall classrooms
For better or worse, Livesey says, nearly all the furniture in the building is on wheels. Here, in the auditorium, partitions break up the space for end-of-quarter reviews.
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Student discussion at Austin E. Knowlton School of Architecture ‘s Knowlton Hall
The mobile furniture allows impromptu presentations and discussions throughout the building.
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Student discussion at Austin E. Knowlton School of Architecture ‘s Knowlton Hall auditorium stadium seats
The stadium seats in the auditorium are frequently used as meeting and lunching spots. "We refer to the building as 'design education by distraction,'" Livesey says. "You can always see something going on."
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Materials and fabrication workshop at Austin E. Knowlton School of Architecture ‘s Knowlton Hall
On the lowest level of the building is the materials and fabrication workshop, open and available to all students.
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Photographer Ian Allen visiting Austin E. Knowlton School of Architecture ‘s Knowlton Hall classroom
Photographer Ian Allen's visit to the school coincided with final reviews and thus frantic last-minute work. "A lot of the students were trying to clean their desks but I was more interested in the messes and how that human element coexists with those grand spaces," Allen says.
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Knowlton Hall studio floor
At the heart of Knowlton Hall is the studio floor, outfitted with desks for nearly 500 and divided into quadrants. The northwest and southeast sections sit seven feet higher than the other two. “One giant floor would destroy this building,” Scogin says. “It’d no longer be studio spaces but a factory.”
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Knowlton Hall studio space
A challenge in the studio space was to provide ample pin-up space while at the same time offering loads of natural daylight. "We accomplished that through cuts into the building, swaths that are carved out to let light in," Scogin says.
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Downstairs view of glowing bookshelf box
Light also played a key role in the design of the library. "It's a glowing box at the top of the building," Scogin says. "It's a destination point."
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Knowlton Hall library with Eero Aarnio Pastil chair
Books are stacked around the edge of the translucent box, created a dramatic, back-lit effect. Throughout the library and the building, chairs like Eero Aarnio’s Pastil (shown here) from the school’s Classic Furniture Collection (created with part of the project’s budget), act as everyday study seats for students and expose them to important design icons.
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George Nelson Coconut chair and Harry Bertoia Diamond chair in the library
A student reads in a space below the library while lounging in George Nelson's Coconut chair, positioned next to Harry Bertoia’s Diamond chair.
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Knowlton Hall library in the new hall
One of the important battles the school chose to fight was moving the architecture collection out of the main library and into the library in the new hall. Having won, the school puts the books proudly on display.
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Knowlton Hall roof garden
Located off of the library, the roof garden provides students with "a reflective space," Livesey says. "It's a place for getting away, to go outside, to be out of the building but still in it at the same time." The How High the Moon chair by Shiro Kuramata for Idee and the Stones tables by Maya Lin for Knoll offer a quite outdoor space in which to sit.
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Austin E. Knowlton School of Architecture ‘s Knowlton Hall front entrance
The airy entrance invites the rest of campus into the school. "In contrast to the college of engineering across the street that has a very small entrance, the porch encourages people to come in and explore the building," Livesey says.
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Knowlton Hall marble columns
The columns and marble were incorporated at the donor’s decree. He reportedly called the former “symbolic of the discipline” and said if the latter “was good enough for the Lincoln Memorial, it was good enough for the school.”
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Knowlton Hall exterior marble detail
The marble, however, was a tough sell with the architects. "It makes no sense in today's economy and with today's technology to build like that," Scogin says. "So we said, if you were going to do a building in marble today, how would you do it. We came up with the idea of marble shingles as a rain screen." The strategy let the team avoid using caulking, "because that's where marble always fails," Scogin says. They were also able to create a system where one broken single can easily be replaced.
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Knowlton Hall concrete, glass and steel exterior
Due to a tight budget, the materials palette was severely limited and nearly entirely made up of concrete, glass, and steel. While used effectively and creatively, Scogin wishes there had been a few more options. "It would have been nice to have a couple moments of really fine materials and a few details that were more refined," he says.
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Knowlton Hall exterior at night
The hall glows at night—not surprisingly as it's open 24 hours a day and used by students through all hours. The raised terrace is a favorite spot in the building as a result of its orientation toward the football stadium. "We have two of the premiere tailgating spaces on campus," Livesey says.
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Classic Furniture Collection at the Knowlton Hall
The Classic Furniture Collection offers learning opportunities—as well as extreme functionality. Here, a student crashes for a power nap on George Nelson's 1964 Sling sofa for Herman Miller.
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Knowlton Hall student installations
Throughout the space are student installations. One of the second-year classes, in fact, requires each student to choose a location in the building and create a site-specific work, which has ranged from an inflatable object taking over a classroom to 3,000 plastic cups of water placed in the entry.
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View looking up outside Knowlton Hall
A view looking up from outside Knowlton Hall. “The exterior is an encyclopedia of landscape architecture, from a plaza to a porch to a terrace in the sky,” Scogin says.
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View from the ground at Knowlton Hall
Looking back down, a view toward the ground where picnics and welcome events are often held.
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Knowlton Hall exterior
Knowlton Hall stands stately on campus, with the library light box sticking out of the top. The building is a statement about the school's attitude and mission in its construction: "We tried to think about what's the best way to teach design," Livesey says. The answer: leading by example.
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Austin E. Knowlton School of Architecture ‘s Knowlton Hall at The Ohio State University
The Ohio State University, Austin E. Knowlton School of Architecture's crown jewel: Knowlton Hall. The structure, completed in 2004, reunites and revitalizes discourse between the architecture, landscape architecture, and planning programs, which had been housed in two buildings five blocks apart.

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