Kansas is probably not the first place people think of when it comes to earthquake-resistant structures. Then again, most people would not think of housing a high-performance structural lab for mega-stress-testing building components anywhere but inside a huge industrial box. The University of Kansas is pleasantly defying conventional thought on both counts with its $14 million West Campus Structural Research Facility, the first phase of KU Engineering School’s expansion, known as LEEP2. “The idea was to make it welcoming to students,” said Dr. David Darwin, chair of Civil, Environmental, and Architectural Engineering at KU, during a tour of the facility, which opened in August. “As you come in, it looks like something special. And it is.”
Fei Jun, structural engineering manager for Burns & McDonnell, led the design works of the 40-foot-high, four-foot-thick, L-shaped strong wall backed by 8-foot-deep buttresses. Here, KU faculty and students will soon be testing T-shaped walls of concrete reinforced with different grades and sizes of steel. It is part of a five-year industry initiative to develop reinforced concrete solutions that use less steel, focused on projects for nuclear power plants and earthquake-zone construction as well as mainstream uses.
KU was looking at the growing competition for both research contracts and the engineering stars of tomorrow. So in 2012, with LEEP2 planning already underway on the main campus, the school revamped the design to include a second building on the newer west campus, more than tripling its structural testing facility space. The four-story-high bay, rising up in a meadow along busy Clinton Parkway in west Lawrence, is bound to be noticed.
“They thought this was going to be just a simple Butler building, and then they wanted it to be nicer,” said senior architect Amy Slattery. “One of the moments for that was seeing the 804 project, Ecohawks.” Even from deep inside the high bay, Slattery could still point through two walls of glass to the shimmering 2013 creation of Dan Rockhill’s renowned Studio 804—a new research facility, run by KU students, dedicated to the study of alternative energy for transportation.
Burns & McDonnell, whose architects and structural engineers were already working on LEEP2 with Treanor Architects, was given command of the west building. Work on the main campus extension is expected to wrap up in 2015.