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Blueprints for the New Year

Alisha Self, Of the Record staff

If you can’t envision the Kimball Art Center with a rooftop garden, a giant outdoor plasma screen or a revolving parking garage, stop by the Main Gallery to browse a collection of miniature models that add some unique components to the existing building.

A few weeks ago, a group of aspiring architects from the University of Utah unveiled their proposed designs for a renovated facility, a project the board has been contemplating for several years.

Next month, Kimball board members will hold a strategy meeting to discuss short-term and long-term plans for the remodel, which they hope to jumpstart by hiring an architect this year.

Hank Louis, a board member and professor at the University of Utah Graduate School of Architecture, usually teaches a design lab that gives students the opportunity to create houses for families on the Navajo Nation Indian Reservation. Last semester, his students had the opportunity to work on a different project.

The 11 students who took Louis’ class produced conceptual renderings, site plans, floor plans and detailed models of the building they would propose for a Kimball overhaul.

"We work with students and we are inspired by students, so this was really fitting," said Robin Rankin, executive director of the Kimball Art Center.

Design studios are generally hypothetical projects, but this particular class took into account real-life restrictions such as historic preservation guidelines, zoning bylaws, and space constraints. Aside from those guidelines, the students were given free rein.

"Hank was smart and careful not to say, ‘Don’t do this,’" said student Scott Yribar. "He told us to be realistic but not to rule anything out."

The students didn’t deal with budgeting issues but did take money into consideration. "With a class like this, the idea in my mind is to push what is possible," Yribar said. "Our job in a way is to bring up ideas that they could use."

To get ideas of what the new building needs to entail, the students interviewed members of the Kimball staff. "They tried to come up with a facility where exhibitions, education, studios and events could easily and peacefully coexist," Rankin explained.

Yribar said the main challenges were dealing with the requirements for historical buildings (maintaining the primary four walls, for example) and adding a large increase in square-footage to a fairly small site. Students could add up to 20,000 square feet to the existing 10,000-square-foot building. "It was hard to fit everything on that lot," he said.

The students’ designs range from realistic to futuristic, with some elements that are feasible and others that are not so feasible.

"On one end, the students came up with some very practical ideas, and others were more out there and more theoretical," said Louis. "Some students will try something pretty wild, even though you try to rein them in and say, ‘Hey this probably wouldn’t fly in the real world.’ You still want to let them go off and explore different ideas."

Yribar decided to go with a model that incorporates a reflective exterior that would mirror the surrounding buildings. "I think you can go two ways at the beginning: you can emulate the context of the building or you could put something there that is completely different and stands out. I wasn’t really happy with either of those options, so I tried to do something that would take the context and project it back out," he explained.

The students’ designs were juried in early December by a group that included Kimball board members, Park City Museum board members (since they recently underwent a similar process), and Park City Planning Commission member Brooke Hontz.

"There wasn’t a clear runaway favorite, but there were elements from each project that stood out," said Rankin, noting that each design is vastly different. "It was really fun to see the building through their eyes," she added. "It helps us look at it through different lenses."

Rankin said the board will likely combine elements from each design to come up with guidelines for an architect. "We’ve got basically a manuscript to pull from," she said.

Yribar said the project was a worthwhile experience as part of his graduate studies. "For me, the most valuable thing was the partnership that we had with the Kimball," he said. "They were excited to hear what we had to say and they were really helpful. For me, as hopefully a future architect, it was all about that interaction with the client."

Louis also said he was pleased with the outcome of the class. "I am happy with the results," he said. "Each student took a different tack on the design and everybody accomplished the program. We ran the whole course of solutions, which was pretty good."

Louis said he’s not sure which direction the board will want to go in as far as planning the remodel. "I think that this was a good exercise, but obviously long before we start that we’re going to have to have a handle on a real budget and things like that," he said.

The students’ models are on display at the Kimball Art Center, located at the corner of Main Street and Heber Avenue, through Jan. 10.


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