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Graham Gund discusses firm’s building designs

Members of the Kenyon community filed into Gund Gallery on Feb. 25 to hear the building’s architect, Graham Gund ’63 H’81, speak with Bloomberg News Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief Emeritus Matthew Winkler ’77 H’00 P’13 about his vision behind the designs for some of Kenyon’s most recognizable spaces. This included the Kenyon Athletic Center (KAC), Gund Gallery, Horvitz Hall and the renovations to Peirce Dining Hall, which Gund’s architectural firm, the GUND Partnership, all played a role in creating.

The talk was part of the Kenyon Unique lecture series, which features conversations with distinguished faculty members and Kenyon alumni. The crowd included mostly administrators, alumni and trustees, although some students and Gambier residents attended.

The presentation began with an introductory video comparing the 500-person college Gund attended 30 years ago with the Kenyon of today. The video explained Gund’s desire to maintain cohesion between the modern and historic architecture on the Hill. The video said Gund intends his buildings on college campuses to last for 100 years.

After the video concluded with an image of the Gund-designed Horvitz Hall at sunset, President Sean Decatur took to the podium. He opened with a series of anecdotes about encounters with Gund’s architecture before he worked at Kenyon, from the “modern” and “integrated” library he toured on his first faculty interview at Mount Holyoke College to the Cleveland Botanical Garden and Conservancy.

After Decatur’s speech, Winkler and Gund began a one-on-one conversation about Gund’s work at Kenyon.

Discussing Gund Gallery, completed in 2011, is made of stones from the same quarry as Old Kenyon, the architect explained his commitment to bringing natural light into the gallery, even though 5 percent of daylight can damage paper artwork. Gund solved this problem by introducing “baguettes” – horizontal bars across the face of the gallery – that can be adjusted to control light flow while maintaining the transparent and inviting facade of the building.

Gund said he designed Horvitz Hall, which was completed in 2012, deliberately off the beaten path of the campus to allow for the “noise and mess” of an art studio. Kenyon o ered a single art class when Gund was a student. Gund, whose home is filled with modern art, said “art always has something for everyone.”

The discussion then turned to an area of campus Gund particularly likes: Storer Hall, which was completed in 2000. Rosse Hall, first designed as a chapel and then used as a gym, had trouble meeting the physical requirements of housing a music program during Gund’s time at Kenyon. For example, it was difficult to move pianos through the space; Storer fit those needs. Gund has a particular affection for the curved staircase in Storer Hall, although he is loathe to pick a favorite building.

Gund’s desire to create practical and adaptable buildings as well as those that are aesthetically pleasing prompted him to suggest a Science Quad, instead of the single additional science building the College had originally planned. The creation of the Quad, which was finished in 2001, allowed him to meet the faculty’s requests for connectivity without creating an overly large building.

One well-known detail of the Science Quad is the chromatic-toned glass in the stairwells. Gund explained that he chose this element, as well as the glass-cut doves in the Peirce addition, as a 21st-century response to stained glass windows. Both, Gund explained, were an attempt to combine his love of art with his designs.

Gund’s renovation of and addition to Peirce, completed in 2008, was complicated by the structure of the older part of the building. He had to plan around existing walls and take into account previous additions to the building. Nevertheless, he managed to create an addition that was “more glass than wall.” He likes that students do not use the space only for eating — he advocated arms on the chairs but is not as happy with the presence of condiments outside of the servery (he prefers them in the servery) and tables in the atrium.

Perhaps Gund’s magnum opus is the Kenyon Athletic Center, completed in 2006, which was ranked the best athletic facility in the country by the Princeton Review in 2013. Gund took inspiration from an airplane hangar, a town hall and a barn to unite all of Kenyon’s athletic facilities in a building that he boasts is so connected that it only has four corners.

Although most of the discussion centered on Gund’s work in the past, the alum’s future plans never seemed far from the surface of the discussion. Multiple times, Winkler and Gund praised Kenyon’s original builders for having the foresight to make a plan for the future. As Winkler said, “The Master Plan goes on.”

Gund also brought up the new library, a key part of the Master Plan, which he says will be smaller and more compact than Olin and Chalmers Library. It will also be cheaper to operate and line up better with the other buildings on Middle Path.

When asked about the purpose of the Master Plan, Gund reiterated that campus buildings should have a lifespan of 100 years, and mentioned how important it was to avoid mistakes and plan for the future.

Before the group moved into a reception in the lobby, Winkler took one question from a student in the audience who wondered if Gund was worried about the effect that having one architect design so much of the campus might have on the diversity of the buildings, mentioning the replacement of Farr Hall with “NCA-type” buildings. Gund’s simple answer, “Nope,” drew applause and laughter from the crowd. Gund went on to justify his answer by explaining that the new buildings will be truer to to the original design of the Village.

Once in the lobby, Gund warmly greeted those he knew with hugs and took part in one-on-one conversations with friends and strangers alike as the group enjoyed wine, beer, cheese and desserts.

When asked by this Collegian reporter what he would say to students who are concerned that trustees are prioritizing their vision for the campus over current students’ vision for the campus, Gund said, “Well, it sounds like it’s something I don’t know anything about.” Gund asked for an example, and this reporter focused the question on the new library.

“This is really up to the College,” he said.

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