Open Spaces: Campus as Community at KCAD

Posted December 20, 2015 in Campus

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2015/2016 issue of Portfolio. View the complete issue here.

While it’s true that great work can happen anywhere, all artists and designers crave a physical environment that fuels creativity rather than stifling it. Studios and workspaces are sanctuaries, places of refuge that allow individuals to hone their talents while simultaneously inspiring them to pursue new ideas and ways of making. But here at Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University (KCAD), that environment must also be a living, breathing space, open enough to showcase students’ work and invite inside those who bring a valuable outside perspective.

Meeting the need for both open and private spaces on an urban campus can be challenging. Specifically, it’s a delicate balance between high-minded vision and the reality of building codes. Since the beginning of 2015 the task of striking that balance while forging KCAD’s future as an urban campus has largely fallen on the shoulders of Director of Facilities Alex Smart.

Director of Facilities Alex SmartAlex Smart

“I often describe my job as solving problems all day long,” Smart says. “But in reality they really aren’t problems, it’s just looking at possibilities. We want to be able to look at challenges as opportunities.”

Smart, a 25-year veteran architect, hopes to unify the campus more in coming years, so that each space complements the other. He dreams of spaces that are both flexible and open-minded—collaborative enough to unite departments and floors, yet distinct enough to convey the individual identity of each program.

As members of the KCAD community continue to embrace collaborative approaches to projects that transcend traditional barriers between disciplines, Smart says, “Not only do we need transformational spaces, we ourselves must be flexible. It’s interesting because of the creativity that happens here.”

That commitment is illustrated by two recently completed renovation projects, unveiled at a ribbon-cutting event held as part of the Inaugural Celebration on November 5. New undergraduate and graduate studio spaces now span two floors of the building at 89 Ionia Ave., while the third floor of the 17 Fountain St. NW building has been remodeled to provide ample classroom space for the Master of Architecture, Illustration, and Medical Illustration programs.  

3rd floor new class room spaces(above and below): Former third floor studio spaces in the 17 Fountain St. NW building have been transformed into classrooms for the Illustration, Medical Illustration, and Master of Architecture programs

New Master of Architecture classroom spaces

The college’s approach to space also involves opening itself up to the external community. During ArtPrize 2013, 2014, and 2015, KCAD students, faculty, and community partners transformed the portion of Pearl St. between the 17 Fountain St. NW and Woodbridge N. Ferris buildings into the Spark Park, a flexible public green space where the KCAD community, ArtPrize viewers and other visitors could relax, network and participate in various group activities.

The Spark Park was modeled after Downtown Grand Rapids Inc.’s [DGRI] parklet program. “It’s a nontraditional space that catches your eye when you go by it,” says Tim Kelly, planning manager at DGRI. “We think the more inviting a public space is, the more vibrant the city will be and the more the public will want to be there.”

Pop-up parks are just one part of KCAD’s overall strategy to engage the public spatially. Going forward, Smart would like to craft an entrance to KCAD that immediately conveys the college’s identity and mission to those who pass through the doors.

In the spirit of collaboration, Smart knows that it will take an institutionwide effort, including input from students, faculty, and staff members to develop the best solution for KCAD as a whole.

“We have to work as a team,” Smart says. “This is not my vision; this needs to be the entire college’s vision. When students come into the spaces at KCAD with their parents or their friends, I want them to be proud of the school they are in and for them to show it off.