2 Pavilions: Diverging Courses // Andy McAllister
Over the years, the KSU Design+Make Studio has built projects of various types and scales. The studio has seen a broad range in the way projects are carried out through completion. I am speaking of certain constraints that are encountered when dealing with different municipalities, codes, and other variables. Currently, our studio is working on two pavilions: they are of slightly different scales, in different phases of completion, and are located in different cities. The Johnson County Sunset Office building pavilion is situated on a government campus in Johnson County, Kansas. The second pavilion is located in Alma, Kansas, a town of about 800 people. Aside from the scale differences, the pavilions are very similar. Both of them are steel and wood construction with a similar make up of assemblies. One would assume that communication, contractual concerns, and certifications would also be similar. However, the two projects are playing out differently.
There are a number of reasons as to why this is happening. The way the KSU Design+Make Studio works is similar to an architect/contractor relationship, where the students are the architects and Kansas State University’s school of Architecture, Planning, and Design is the contractor. One interesting component of the studio is that it is taught through El Dorado Architects, specifically one of their design principals, David Dowell. All legal binding documents must be signed by the school, the client (Johnson County or Alma in this case), the principal from El Dorado in his capacity as a KSU employee, and any other third party involved. These documents range from insurance policies to memorandums of understanding (M.O.U). Though both projects require the same legal binding documents, obtaining confirmation from all parties involved is far more challenging for the Johnson County pavilion team. It’s still hard to say if the Alma pavilion team will encounter exactly the same complications because they are not as far into the construction phase. However, I speculate that agreement from all parties in Alma will be easier to obtain.
Design+Make has already witnessed what can happen to a project if one or more parties refuses to or cannot sign the M.O.U. The studio began the ReStart project at the same time as we began the Alma and Johnson County projects. There were similar difficulties with ReStart as there were with Alma and Johnson County when it came to complying with contracts. However, the final outcome for the ReStart project was not as successful as the other two projects. An additional insurance policy that was needed to insure students would have been 75% of the total budget. This was a calculated risk and unfortunately the outcome was that Design+Make would have insufficient funds to carry out the desired proposals. ReStart, like Johnson County, was funded by the government. The difference is that Johnson County’s municipal government is responsible for their funding. ReStart’s funding came through the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development and thus has more requirements and restrictions. The ReStart project, because it is federally funded, has had countless hurdles with funding. The project started years ago and at times has been shut down due to lack of federal funding and cooperation from elected officials. This observation is interesting considering that some form of governing body is responsible for funding most, if not, all of the projects that the KSU Design+Build Studio has participated in this academic year. I speculate that this observation provides valuable insight on the various clients of the studio.
Before Design+Make became deeply involved with the Johnson County pavilion project, a number of limitations were immediately established. The county required that any member who plans to perform structural welding must undergo a welding certification. Furthermore, Johnson County’s policy mandated that the KSU fabrication shop must pass necessary inspections. The team must also consult with a structural engineer on a regular basis to ensure that the structure meets all safety regulations. The contrasting client requirements between the pavilions become clear when you compare these limitations with the relatively few limitations that the Alma pavilion team is faced with. The clients of the Alma pavilion team, the city of Alma, have dictated nothing regarding certification obtainment, insurance policies, construction regulation, or facility requirements. How can one project be so heavily regulated while the other, similar in nature, is more leniently regulated? I do not have a definitive answer; however I speculate that the size of the municipality in which we are working in has something to do with it.
As I previously stated, the behavior exhibited by the various branches of government says a lot about them. Alma, a town of roughly 800 people, has a council of 6 members that make up their town government. The council is made up of working class, tax abiding citizens. Aside from the limitations being more lenient, the council’s individual personalities coincide with the town’s leniency. I have heard various citizens state that working in Alma is extremely relaxed and not like most towns we will encounter. On the contrary, the Johnson County has a population of 566,933. Additionally, the committee in charge of working with the Design+Make is government employees. One could assume that individual risks are higher if government employees sign off on something that is slightly ambiguous. The Johnson County committee represents a larger, more seemingly demanding audience. Suffice it to say there is more at risk when working on a government complex with government employees as your clients. These are all speculations and I am more cognizant of the dynamics of working in Alma since that is the project that I have spent the most time with. However, there is an obvious correlation between the population and the types of projects that they are connected to.
Analysis of the two project’s budget reveals another positive correlation between population, leniency, and funding. The Alma budget and scale are significantly smaller than that of Johnson County’s. The City of Alma is providing $8,000 (+ $1,000 in private donations) and additional donations bring the final budget to $11,000. The Johnson County pavilion budget is upwards of $45,000. Reasons for this large deficit include; professional fees, a larger scale, and a larger overall facility. I could make a claim that a larger municipality with a respectfully larger government has more of a desire to demonstrate its size and power with grander architecture. While this has historical precedent, I can’t say with certainty that this is the case. I bring this up because of the location in which each project is situated. The Johnson County pavilion is situated on a government complex. While this complex is technically open to the public, it has been observed that very few members of the general public actually visit the site. The Alma pool pavilion is located within a public park and used by a majority of the public year round. In the case of Alma, I believe the pavilion is architecture that is borne out of necessity. The park and pool demonstrate great need for shade and seating within the park. The town is more passionate about how the architecture looks, feels, the atmosphere it provides, and whether the design lends itself to the charm of Alma because the general public is the primary user. While great aesthetic considerations are being taken on the Johnson County pavilion, the affect that it has on the general public is negligible.
The city of Alma has been much more lenient with their terms of agreement when compared with Johnson County. Whether the cause of this is the size of the municipality or just relaxed politics in general, the difference is obvious. This is great exposure for the KSU Design+Make Studio because these are issues that we as designers will be faced with on a daily basis in the profession. The more parties involved, the more complicated things can get. In the case of Johnson County pavilion, there are legally binding contracts between Johnson County, the building tenants, El Dorado, Kansas State University, structural engineers, and all of these party’s insurance companies. If one of the parties has a dispute at all, it can set the schedule back. In the profession, this usually means someone is losing money. Lastly, necessity makes for great architecture. A small town that is passionate for positive change in their community in the form of a pavilion could offer a greater opportunity for accommodations. Alma is willing to work with the studio to ensure that what they get is representative of their charm. Generally speaking, it could be a matter of needs versus wants. Alma needs this great piece of architecture in order enhance the experience of a cherished activity. Johnson County wants to utilize a budget that will not be there in the future. This might be a stretch, but there is merit to these claims.
Written by Andy McAllister