Students in the Dirt Works Studio designed a new area in Chalmers Hall which was finished in May. 

Last spring, students from the School of Architecture and Design finished constructing a project they designed themselves. Now, the renovated cafe, art supply shop, art gallery and classroom spaces are bringing together staff, faculty and students from the three departments that use Chalmers.

Construction on the space finished last May, which was designed by students in the Dirt Works Studio — a design course for third year students — taught by Professor Chad Kraus. The Dirt Works students worked in collaboration with design and visual art students on the 6000 square foot project.

The space is entirely open for business and has seen steady use through the first few weeks of the semester.

“From what I’ve heard anecdotally, it’s been well received. The gallery is now more porous and open with more natural light. The space is perhaps a little bit more activated, and I see students going in there more often,” he said.

Kraus said the original cafe area only had seating for 10 to 12 people, whereas the renovated space has space for around 60 people.

Zac Shields, coordinator of design student services & advising, said the renovated space has given architecture and design students a proper place to hangout and relax while not in class.

“It really has opened up the space and brightened up the area and created a great space for students to gather and collaborate,” Shields said.

University senior Emmalee Squires, a jewelry and metalsmithing major, said the new space is a “big improvement.”

“It’s certainly better than it was before. When I first came to KU there was just a little walk up window where you could get snacks, but then that went away. Last year there was nowhere you could get food, the supply shop was really small, and the space was kind of dark and boring,” she said. “Since they’ve opened it all up and made the gallery more included in the study space, it’s really cool; and the shop is bigger, and that is nice.”

The idea behind the renovation, Kraus said, was to open up the space between the two wings of Chalmers Hall, while also creating more space for the cafe and the supply shop.

“The genesis behind the project was the former coffee kiosk had shut down and architecture & design students really needed a place to get coffee that was close by and accessible. We took this as an opportunity to recreate this whole area around the shop space because Chalmers Hall had not really been changed in 30 or 40 plus years, so that center space had potential, but it wasn’t really being fulfilled.”

Designing and renovating the gallery and cafe space proved complex, Kraus added, but students rose to the challenge.

“Architecture students here at KU tend to be very resourceful and hardworking,” he said. “We had some high standards. It had to be built well, it had to be conceived well; and if it wasn’t, we would do it again. We just established our expectations and plowed through the project.”

Kraus said he hopes the space will encourage collaboration between design and architecture students.

“I think one of our main goals in the beginning was that the space would provide an important social dimension that is too often lacking in our school. Architecture students and design students too infrequently engage at all, at any level,” he said. “I think it’s an unfortunate situation because we have so much to learn from each other.”

— Edited by Omar Sanchez