St. Louis Early Childhood Education Center Uses BIM to Accommodate a Tight Budget and Schedule

Jan. 6, 2009

St. Louis-based KAI Design & Build has assembled an award-winning project team to create Harris-Stowe State University's new Early Childhood Development and Parenting Education Center in St. Louis, MO. The total cost of the environmentally-friendly project is budgeted at more than $17 million, with construction underway and expected to be completed in July 2009.


"Officials at Harris-Stowe State University selected us for this particular project because they trust us to manage the overall design process and they rely on us to select the right members for the team to achieve the results they want," says KAI President Michael Kennedy, Jr. "We felt for this project that the team should include a world-class designer consultant to meet the university's specific objectives for the building. If you want a world-class building, we can put together a world-class team to do the job."

KAI requested that Adrian Luchini serve as the designer on the project to provide the university with a world-class facility to match the center's unique educational model and mission. Luchini is an internationally recognized designer who has practiced in Argentina and the United States. He has received numerous AIA awards and has earned master's degrees in architecture from the University of Cincinnati and Harvard University. He currently teaches architectural design and theory courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels at Washington University in St. Louis, MO.

The center is to utilize the Reggio Emilio educational model of child development in its operation and teachings. This model, originally developed in Italy, provides students, parents, and teachers with learning using multiple experiential methods and systems of childhood development.

"With our program specializing in childhood development for urban children, I envisioned a building to attract teachers, students, and guest lecturers from around the world," says Dr. Patricia Johnson, education professor and director of Harris-Stowe State University's Early Childhood Development and Parenting Education Center.

The Early Childhood Center project marks Luchini's largest collaborative project with KAI Design & Build to date. KAI has a strategic alliance with Luchini to provide design services on such special projects.

"We worked exceedingly well as a design team, from the engineers to the interior designers," Luchini says. "Everyone involved in the project, including the university's (campus expansion) committee, completely embraced the unique program and design, and we all worked together, aiming for the same goal."

Luchini's design for the center, as he puts it, is "dramatic and expressive, yet subtle." The 47,885-square-foot structure is clearly unique to the area with its curved white roof, extensive use of blue glass, large open courtyard, and translucent bronze polycarbonate panels that appear to move in the sunlight.

Harris-Stowe State University President Dr. Henry Givens saw the project as an opportunity to display Harris-Stowe's expanding presence in the local and national educational community. He directed the building to be located adjacent to the campus' main entry on Compton Avenue.

"I knew because of the site position that the building would be highly visible and it gave me the opportunity to do something interesting," Luchini says. "I wanted to create a building that had a low profile on the side facing the street, then became taller when it met the campus side. A lot of the design has a peculiar combination of common sense and aesthetics. Design has to be more than just a practical solution; it has to be something beyond that."

The facility's highly visible roof will be covered in a smooth, reflective membrane embossed with a circular motif that is repeated throughout the courtyard area. All of the HVAC systems are well hidden under a cantilever behind the building, as opposed to on top of the roof, to create a clean canvas appearance from above.

"I consider the roof to be a field, or something of form, rather than just something to cover the top of the building," Luchini says. "It has a sculptural quality."

The new facility will house children ages newborn through pre-kindergarten, along with the university's Early Childhood Education department. The children and their teachers will occupy the building's main level, with their classrooms and offices facing a colorful sculpture, garden-like playground in the courtyard left exposed by a large cutout in the roof. A portion of the play area is covered by the overhang of the higher education component's second floor. The children's classrooms and teachers' offices each contain multiple windows of various sizes and heights, again relating to the sizes and heights of the occupants. Another unique aspect of the building's design is its all-glass front façade with a view from Compton Avenue through to the playground.

"The roof-line of the children's area is shorter, more inviting for the children," Luchini says. "We also designed their area with a lot of glass and transparency to provide the maximum amount of sunlight and rooms with views of the courtyard or outside."

The second wing of the facility, which is connected, yet separate from the children's area, will house the Education Department's classrooms and offices. A glazed cutout through the roof and the floor let in natural light at the lobby of a second entrance facing the campus, and down to a portion of the playground below.

While security and safety is achieved via a complete physical separation of the children and their teachers from university students and staff, the facility will also contain high-tech audio and video systems for the students and parents to observe the children from the higher-education classrooms or direct-observation rooms with mirrored one-way glass. Additional amenities include a parents' library and education room, multi-purpose room with full kitchen, smart board technology in each classroom, student computer lounge, and a large multi-media professional development classroom/lecture hall.

KAI is also seeking LEED Silver certification as a green building for this project. Environmentally friendly measures incorporated by the KAI team into the facility's design include:

  • A highly energy efficient mechanical system with an energy wheel and variable air and water valve systems.
  • Pervious pavement and play surfaces to help reduce drainage into the storm sewers.
  • A rain garden and landscaping to facilitate the slow down of storm water to the sewage system.
  • Recycled rubber on the surface around the playground.

While KAI has designed many of the university's buildings, this facility is KAI's second project on the campus to utilize Building Information Modeling (BIM) technology. In 2004, KAI used BIM to design the four-story Gillespie Residence Hall and Student Center project, Harris-Stowe's first residential-life building. Starting with that experience, KAI's architects and engineers easily constructed the complex geometries of the new building in "virtual reality." Aside from providing an accurate visual representation of all aspects of the unique design, the model was leveraged to accurately take off the material quantities and estimate the building's cost throughout the design process.

"The design is a fantastic example of a collaboration in aesthetics, function, and technology," says Donald Koppy, KAI director of architecture. "However, the university's construction budget and schedule is fixed, and we had no room for overdesign and re-draw time in the design phase."

Beyond collaborating with the design team, the model is also shared with the general contractor, Kozeny-Wagner Inc. of Arnold, MO, and many sub-contractors who have less than a year to complete its construction.

"Kozeny-Wagner is very excited to have been selected as the general contractor for this world-class project at Harris-Stowe State University," says Michael Kozeny, vice president of Kozeny-Wagner Inc. "Not only will this be a landmark building for the Harris-Stowe campus, but for the City of St. Louis as well."

Kwame Building Group Inc. of St. Louis is the construction manager and owner's representative on the project.

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of I+S Design, create an account today!