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Student-built Chalmers Café and Gallery opens Saturday

Friday, May 05, 2017

LAWRENCE — When the Kansas Memorial Unions announced the closure of the Jaybreak, a snack bar in Chalmers Hall that had operated for 30 years, panic ensued among the building’s caffeine dependent. Where would students from the departments of Architecture, Design and Visual Art get a cuppa joe? 

On Saturday, May 6, the public will have a chance to find out, as the new Chalmers Café + Gallery throws its doors open for the first time, 11:30 a.m.- 2 p.m.

Students enrolled in Dirt Works Studio, a third-year design-build class led by Associate Professor of Architecture Chad Kraus, executed the dramatic transformation of the space.

The 6,000-square-foot remodeling included much more than the Jaybreak’s original gathering space and snack bar. An adjacent classroom is now connected to the Jaybreak’s former seating area through a series of pivoting, cross-laminate timber doors that cover a span of 60 feet. Turning them 90 degrees will allow the space to be temporarily expanded for exhibition openings and receptions.  

The gallery, which has been completely renovated, is for the first time visually open to the seating area with a full-height glass wall and doors. The Art & Design Shop, where art and drafting supplies can be purchased, is being relocated from a closet to a new space, complete with an espresso bar. New, suspended LED lights brighten most of the space.

"For a group of third-year architecture students to design and build a project of this scale and scope in an academic setting over the course of a semester and a half is an extraordinarily ambitious undertaking,” said Kraus. “For them to risk failure and persevere through daunting and sometimes seemingly insurmountable challenges is awesome."

The project gave students from two KU schools and three departments who jointly use Chalmers the rare opportunity to collaborate. Besides the Dirt Works Studio course, Assistant Professor of Design Tim Hossler’s class from the Department of Design in the School of Architecture, Design & Planning contributed environmental graphics.

Associate Professor of Visual Art Matt Burke’s sculpture class created custom-designed inlaid wooden tabletops and furniture to decorate and provide additional functionality to the new space. Visual Art is one of four departments in the School of the Arts in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences. David Mucci, the director of the Memorial Union, was also a consultant on the project.

Dean Mahesh Daas said, “The food and retail services in the Chalmers-Marvin Hall Complex isn’t just a matter of convenience. Food and drink bring people together, and this place is an essential element of our culture.

“Even the best operations need a boost that can come from applying design-thinking to the needs of people,” he said.

“We were delighted to partner with the School of Architecture, Design & Planning and the Kansas Memorial Union to transform a space that had previously been something of an afterthought into a showcase for the creativity and can-do spirit of KU students,” said Henry Bial, director of the School of the Arts. “We expect the new accommodations to inspire further creativity by making Chalmers Hall a more welcoming and user-friendly environment.”

Photo by Bruce Wagman.

The drawings and sculptures of John Gaunt, former dean of Architecture, Design & Planning, will be on display during the opening through Wednesday, May 10.