A Former Art Building Gets New Life as a Collaborative Makerspace at Kent State University

Bohlin Cywinski Jackson
4 min readApr 8, 2021
The Design Innovation Hub (DI Hub) at Kent State University © Ed Massery

Beyond providing the tools for researching and testing new ideas, college makerspaces offer a framework for students to collaborate across disciplines and areas of focus. Working with Carnegie Mellon University on the design of ANSYS Hall, a new maker hub for its College of Engineering, we strengthened connections between engineering environments while addressing the needs of a range of users, from software company ANSYS, Inc. to engineering clubs. When finished this spring, the Siebel Center for Design at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign will provide a home for human-centered design and multidisciplinary collaborations. And at Kent State University, the recently completed Design Innovation (DI) Hub re-imagines a former art building as a new home for collaborative design thinking and creative problem solving on campus.

A University-Wide Maker Ecosystem

The DI Hub is the focal point in a design innovation network that includes smaller “nodes,” including existing labs and makerspaces across Kent State’s campuses. The 78,000 square-foot building is an “owned by all, shared by all” environment that brings together students, faculty, and members of the community and encourages interaction across disciplines, from computer science and engineering to entrepreneurship and fashion. As an early entry point for exploration and exposure to new tools and processes, it was important for the building to welcome the campus community and celebrate the energy of the programs within.

The original School of Art building at Kent State, © Kent State University

A Framework for the Future

When Kent State’s School of Art relocated to a new facility in 2016, the future of the John Andrews-designed, 1970s-era building was in doubt because of the extensive physical upgrades needed. The original building was an ambitious design, with strong geometry and an expressive spirit. We embraced the bones and character of interconnectedness of the original design, bringing daylight and views into the interior to create welcoming creative spaces and clear circulation paths. A collaborative process with the Kent State Office of the University Architect, Domokur Architects, and Gilbane, the transformation is a successful example of how adaptive re-use can provide a framework for new uses while strengthening sense of place on campus.

© Bohlin Cywinski Jackson

Embracing the building’s exposed 25’x25’ structural frame, we used this rigorous modularity as an organizing principal throughout, retaining the original steel structure and highlighting the raw, industrial quality of the interior. Many of the elements integrated into the project, including railings, light fixtures, acoustic panels, glazing patterns, and exterior terra-cotta panels, continue this modular logic and celebration of craft.

We replaced the failing existing exterior with a highly efficient envelope, including a rainscreen system comprised of a modular pattern of cream-colored terra-cotta, inspired by the original design in both rhythm and color value. Expansive windows capture the transparency of the original design while offering increased views of campus and allowing natural light into the interior.

© Bohlin Cywinski Jackson

Design Innovation on Display

A range of spaces meet the evolving needs of Kent State’s Design Innovation Initiative. Within the “DI Reactor,” dedicated labs and shops support diverse prototyping and making activities and include the 3D printer shop, a metal shop, wood shop, rooms for a water jet cutter and laser cutter, a CNC room, an electronics testing and development lab, and a print lab, as well as an industrial and robotics bay. Other components include a studio classroom, collaborative makerspaces, an auditorium and lecture hall, and the Blank Lab, a reconfigurable theater-style space for mixed-reality technology. The Innovation Teaching Kitchen, occupying a central location on the DI Hub’s second floor, supports classes for the Hospitality Management Program while providing a space for makers from across the community to gather and build their culinary skills.

© Ed Massery

While clarifying circulation throughout the DI Hub, we also explored ways of drawing in the campus community at this central location. Using the building’s established North-South axis, we created a new circulation spine along its western edge, with entry vestibules that better engage with existing campus pathways. Addressing the university’s goal of upgrading dining facilities on campus, the inclusion of a large dining hall at the DI Hub offers a natural way for the campus community to explore the activity within.

As Kent State continues to broaden its approach to teaching and practicing design innovation, it is increasingly looking for ways to engage the broader community, as well as alumni and business partners in the region and beyond. The Design Innovation Hub provides a central destination to experience and participate in the creativity and ideas exchange taking place. And by transforming an existing building in the process, the project provides space for new ideas while continuing the legacy of creativity at this central campus location.

Further Reading

Adaptive Re-Use: Building an Innovation Ecosystem in America’s Post-Industrial Cities
Kent State Design Innovation Hub
A Virtual Grand Opening for the Kent State University Design Innovation Hub
A Place for Innovation



Bohlin Cywinski Jackson

Designing buildings that inspire connection and wonder in every person who experiences them.