Cornerstone of Campus: Making the Oldest Building on Campus New Again

For more than 30 years, Helix Architecture + Design has developed an unparalleled expertise in the renovation and adaptive reuse of historic buildings. In particular, we have been entrusted by several higher education institutions to rejuvenate their oldest campus buildings and fulfill their aspirations of giving the buildings a new future. 

Repurposing historic campus structures requires a blend of respect for the context and character of the campus, a focus on the requirements of the diverse user groups, and careful consideration of efficiency, durability, and responsibility. With each project, we understand the unique design dialogue that occurs between the original architecture and integration of the new. 

As another school year begins, we reflect on the transformation of a few of the oldest buildings on our clients’ campuses that are now buzzing with new energy.

Teaching an old building new tricks at Rockhurst University

Sedgwick Hall at Rockhurst University has been the site of many new beginnings in its lengthy history. Originally constructed more than 100 years ago, Sedgwick Hall was home to the University’s first high school and college classes. It has evolved from the only building on Rockhurst’s growing campus to a multi-purpose facility that contains Mabee Theater and a handful of classrooms and faculty offices. As Rockhurst has adapted to changing pedagogies and incoming cohorts of students, Sedgwick Hall has been modified and augmented to fulfill Rockhurst’s aspirations. Reimagining Sedgwick Hall is the latest chapter in the building’s legacy, becoming the new home for the St. Luke’s College of Health Sciences at Rockhurst University.

Grappling with the constraints of a historic structure, Helix and CO Architects collaborated with Rockhurst leadership to create high-impact moments through restraint and resourcefulness. The most powerful move involved repositioning Sedgwick Hall’s primary entrance to reengage with the rest of campus. Once clad entirely in brick, the east side of the building has been opened with an all-glass façade, reestablishing the connection between the University and its original campus building.

“This is truly a historic moment. Sedgwick Hall was the first building on the Rockhurst University campus, and through the generosity of our donors, it will continue providing an inclusive, transformative, innovative Jesuit education for generations of Rockhurst students to come.”

— Rev. Thomas B. Curran, S.J., Rockhurst University president

Sedgwick Hall’s transformation is an expression of gratitude of the existing with the pursuit of simplicity in the new, through rigor and resourcefulness. Students can seek greater knowledge from new pedagogy and state-of-the-art technology, and they can quietly reflect in the curated areas of reverence for Rockhurst and Jesuit history.

Putting a new twist on historic grandeur at the Kansas City Art Institute

Situated on the gateway of the Kansas City Art Institute’s (KCAI) picturesque campus and originally constructed in 1985, Vanderslice Hall is a historic icon that has served KCAI students for more than a century. More than 30 years ago, select areas of the building were turned into office space for KCAI’s admissions staff, in a renovation which enclosed many of Vanderslice’s original details within drop ceilings and office walls. Vanderslice plays a key role for KCAI and the Kansas City arts community with its prominent location on campus. It’s often the first stop on campus tours and is the headquarters for the team working to recruit and review prospective student portfolios.

The respect for history, celebration of historic and contemporary craftsmanship, and openness to creativity on display within the design reflect KCAI’s vibrant past and exciting future.

KCAI understood the significance of restoring Vanderslice to its previous grandeur. Inspired by the ornate details of its original Flemish Queen Anne architecture, KCAI and Helix began work to return this portion of the building to its original layout and character and create a functional office to serve KCAI’s admission staff. Armed with archives of photographs that depict the spaces as they were initially designed, the team resolved to fully restore or replicate wherever possible. Where completely new elements were required, the design is identifiably contemporary, working in harmony with the historic details.

Reimagining the first impression at Kansas City University

As the oldest medical school in Kansas City, Kansas City University (KCU) has a long, rich history of osteopathic medicine. Helix has been a trusted partner to KCU since 2012, playing an instrumental role in shaping the future of their campus. KCU values honoring history while looking to the future. These core values inspired the renovation of the oldest building on their campus into the Administration Building and campus Welcome Center.

Originally home to the first Children’s Mercy Hospital, the more than 100-year-old building became part of KCU in the 1970s. Prior to the renovation, navigating the historic building was challenging, and it did not provide a strong first impression for potential students. In line with KCU’s commitment to sustainability, Helix developed a concept that maintained the character the building while transforming it into a progressive academic administrative hub.

“Helix Architecture + Design has been a true partner throughout this undertaking, as they understand the needs of our students and embrace our vision.”

– Mark B. Hahn, DO, President & CEO, KCU

The design solution completely opened up the floor plan and reorganized building circulation, making it easier for students, staff, and visitors to navigate. The first floor was designed to create a true Welcome Center that includes a coffee bar, lounge seating, and environmental graphics that communicate the KCU brand. The introduction of hospitality areas, progressive workplace solutions and intensive technology/audiovisual capabilities address the evolving needs of students and staff alike.
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