In Winter of 2014 the University of Chicago embarked on a first-of-its-kind collaboration between administrators, students, and design professionals to fulfill a need within the Department of Visual Art. As DOVA sought to expand their pedagogical offerings to include space for kiln-firing ceramics, an idea was born to house three kilns in a small ancillary building located adjacent to the Logan Center wood shop and sculpture studios.
The Department of Visual Art conducted four installments of a class titled How to House a Kiln co-taught by DOVA faculty and the design architect. Each class focused on the specifics of the building design process from needs to code requirements to materiality to the specifics of the building structure. The design of a modified shipping container was finalized in the third installment of the class, and with design in hand, construction documentation was complete for the project in early 2017. Working together with the design/build general contractor for the project, the students participated in the construction of the building they helped to design in the fall 2017 quarter installment of the class.
This experimental pedagogical approach generated a unique environment for learning, while subtly collapsing the usual strata between administrators, students, and the professional world. The result was an enriched multi-discipline learning experience for all who contributed, and resulted in a truly unique addition to the Logan Center for the Arts.
The Kilnhouse is the permanent home to three electric kilns and is used by students intermittently throughout the academic year. With its small physical footprint we also strived to minimize both its material usage and waste and its energy consumption while maximizing the use of its usability for different University functions. The use of a shipping container as our primary building element was a solution to all of this criteria that also gave the kilnhouse its own distinct architectural character sitting directly adjacent to its neighbor the Logan Center for the Arts.
Reuse of a shipping container as a primary building element allows the building to have a very tight environmental envelope and extremely efficient environmental systems. Additionally, the use demand of its kilns means that it sometimes operates for long periods of time without users in the space. To capitalize on both these elements we used the minimal amount of insulation and building systems necessary in order to reduce energy usage
The application of closed-cell foam insulation as both insulator and radiant heat barrier kept the insulating envelope minimal and allows the space to cycle quickly up to temperature when in use. The Kilns act as a nominal heat source themselves and only need small supplementary heaters when not in use or in extreme cold weather conditions.
A dedicated cooling system was not installed in order to reduce energy consumption. Should temperatures rise inside the kilhouse on warmer days, a dedicated exhaust system expels the hot air and brings in fresh air. The kilnouse is shaded a majority of the day by adjacent buildings and vegetation minimizing heat gain, and the interior radiant barrier further mitigates heat buildup.
The large glazing on the north and south of the container ends means the kilnhouse can be operated without overhead lighting during the daylight hours, further minimizing energy use while providing a pleasant studio space to work.
The actual design and construction of the kilnhouse was an act of community engagement. Multiple classes at the Logan Center for the Arts participated in the planning and design elements, and students of these classes helped with construction. This included painting, framing, glazing, concrete work, and drywall. Students walked away from the process with an intimate knowledge of translating a piece of architecture from concept to constructed work.
Additionally, while the primary requirement of the kilnhouse was as its name implies to give a home to three ceramic kilns, the interior of the kilnhouse was designed in such a way to provide the necessary support for multiple different classes throughout the Logan Center. Doing so opens up further potential for it to be used by the larger arts community.
The project is situated within the existing campus context maintaining a Walk Score of 75, Transit Score of 70, and a Bike Score of 78.
The kilnhouse program did not require any water usage within the building, yet water management outside was still considered. We minimized unnecessary hardscape and sited the building in a terrace of permeable decomposed granite. Also, building with the shipping container allowed us to anchor the building to the site using point footings rather than pouring a slab on grade, which allows rain water to percolate below the shipping container without damage to the structure. As such, 100% of the precipitation is managed on site with zero run-off.
Using a shipping container as a primary building element maximizes many sustainable material practices. First, the shipping container is itself a re-used resource that would otherwise sit empty in a port due to trade imbalances or be shipped out of the country to be recycled. It is also extremely efficient as an envelope of space, so only minimal reinforcement is needed where modifications to the container are made. The steel skin of the container acts as both weather envelope and structure, reducing the use of additional, sometimes toxic materials. The original floor of the container is also used as both structure and finished material, reducing material use and waste. Finally, the dimensions of the shipping container correlate to most sheet goods and framing material used in the construction industry. Keeping the interior ceiling height to 8’ while the container measures 9’6” high means much of the interior building material can be used without cuts or waste, further reducing material consumption.
If in the future the building is ultimately decommissioned, almost the entire steel building and its constituent parts can be directly recycled.