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The Kendall Keeler Project

Posted December 21, 2012 in Classes & Presentations

On the corner of Fountain and Division Street in downtown Grand Rapids sits the Keeler Building. With the exception of the GrandLan Gaming Center, a video gaming room in a storefront, the large brick building has been vacant for decades.

Constructed in two sections by the Keelers of the Keeler Brass Company, the Keeler Building was ready for occupancy for the 1912 and 1914 furniture markets. It was designed so it could be used as office space as well.

If you “Google” Keeler Building, you’ll find numerous blog entries, some dating back to 2007, and many speculating about the fate of the building. And it stands to reason that in many of those articles, Kendall College of Art and Design is mentioned. In fact, fine arts instructors Deb Rockman and Patti Constantine remember a time when the fine arts programs had studio space in the Keeler Building – before it was discovered to be laden with asbestos.

Because the Keeler Building sits opposite Kendall, it does make you wonder if it would be possible to acquire the building, and more importantly, what would its use be?

That was the question posed to “Dialogue and Personality” an inaugural class in the new Collaborative Design program taught by Zoe Carmichael. Eight students from varying programs, including drawing, painting, sculpture, and industrial, graphic, and interior design put their collective talents together to devise a use for the 100-year-old building.

Students conducted a survey of 150 of their classmates. According to the survey, the most immediate need the Keeler Building could meet is housing. As one student pointed out, to live close-by is expensive, and affordable housing is often in less-than-desirable neighborhoods. And many students spend hours in the studio, then face a long city bus ride or bike ride home. Additional housing close-by would increase students’ sense of security, and the proximity would provide additional time for much-needed sleep! Students would be willing to spend $400–$600 per month, depending on number of roommates. Of course, on-site laundry facilities are highly desired, but parking is not, because many students do not have cars, but nearby bus stops (especially with stops at grocery stores) are a must. Surprisingly, students preferred that the apartment not be furnished, as they want a living space they can design themselves.

The team proposed various configurations of apartments, studios, and communal spaces throughout the seven floors. Storefronts on the first floor could provide many needed services; from an art supply store and a student gallery to a 24-hour coffee shop/diner operated by the culinary program at Grand Rapids Community College. Proposed facilities also include a workout space with rock climbing wall, and a garden spot on the upper for students to grow their own vegetables.

Of course, the big question is, “what will this cost?” Students crunched the numbers, and when a reasonable price per square foot was announced, many heads in the room, representing administration, Design West Michigan, Local First, HUB Grand Rapids, ArtPrize and Via Design nodded in agreement. Upon conclusion of their presentation, Dr. Rosen congratulated the students for their encompassing vision of what the Kendall/Keeler community could be. (Imagine celebrating the Keeler Building’s centennial by adding it to the Kendall campus!) 

~ Pamela Patton


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