Building Architectural Identity Around Two Sheets of Paper
In anticipation of AIA Kansas City’s annual Design Excellence Awards this month, we’re putting the spotlight on the DeBruce Center at the University of Kansas, which received a Merit Award from AIA KC in 2016!
A unique hybrid of museum and student commons, The new DeBruce Center at the University of Kansas creates a permanent home for the historic two-page document on which, in 1891, James Naismith outlined The Original 13 “Rules of Basket Ball.”
Gifted to the University, The Rules document became a catalyst for a new $12 million, 32,000 sf facility. The DeBruce Center needed to be more than just a game day attraction, however, as the University desired a building that would provide more student commons space to serve its campus throughout the academic year. Gould Evans responded with a design that weaves together the two distinct programs – an interpretive center built around the concept of The Rules, and a student commons – allowing the story of basketball to unfold at multiple scales and to multiple audiences.
Using The Rules document as a point of departure, the architecture focuses on the creation of an immersive experience to tell the story of the University’s role in the development of the game. Program is arranged along a linear pathway that winds through the open interior, connecting the story of The Rules and all building program – including a 200-seat dining commons for students and visitors, nutrition center for the men’s and women’s basketball teams, coffee shop, museum store and exhibits.
The building consists of two main volumes: a three-story transparent prism within which exhibit and path are delicately suspended, and a single-story bridge connecting the building to the historic Allen Fieldhouse arena where James Naismith perfected the game. Within this bridge, the original 451-word document is enshrined by a perforated scrim containing the more than 45,000 words that make up the contemporary rules of the game, offering visitors a way to physically experience basketball’s evolution over 125 years.
A refined material palette of structural glass and honed black concrete highlights pedestrian movement within a transparent and overlapping building program. This spectacle of social activity breathes life into what might otherwise be a very traditional museum experience. Aluminum provides a substrate for marrying architecture and museum content – a continuous aluminum ramp weaves together exhibit content while perforated aluminum scrim walls wrapping the space where The Rules document is housed pay homage to its author and other significant figures in the history of the sport.
Open since May 2016, the building is making a significant impact on the University by bringing student traffic to a growing quadrant of campus, acting as a primary attraction for prospective students and athletic recruits, drawing visitors from across the country, and strengthening its pride and sense of identity as “the cradle of basketball.”