Architecture that Compounds Interest

AUP+D students, from left: Lauren Uhls, Tania Chavez and Rachel Baier. Photo by Brandon Parigo, Strategic Marketing and Communications

Students compete to design building that promotes the activity inside

Buildings at a college typically serve a specific, inwardly-focused purpose: teaching and research. Architecture students at the University of Missouri-Kansas City were recently charged with infusing that basic functionality with a higher mission: get the broader public excited about what’s going on inside.

Second-year students in the Architectural Studies program took on that assignment this semester. The assignment called for students to design a new home for UMKC’s Department of Physics and Astronomy. The assignment was fictional, in the sense that no such new building is planned, but the students were charged with creating a functional, properly scaled building as if it were to be built.

Unlike the department’s current home in Flarsheim Hall, the student designs were charged with a dual function: both education and public outreach. “By demonstrating to the public what the department does, it promotes interest in physics and astronomy, which in turn promotes the perceived value of the study of physics and astronomy, which in turn draws students and funding to the program.” The assignment called for student designs to include an entry lobby with a display space for the department’s work, faculty offices, three classrooms, four laboratories, a 100-seat auditorium, a teaching planetarium and a domed rooftop observatory.

Students in Architectural Design Studio I, taught by faculty members John Eck and Ted Seligson in the Department of Architecture, Urban Planning and Design, worked on the assignment as both their final semester project and as a competition for the annual Bud Prize, a $1,000 scholarship established in 2004 with Helix / Architecture + Design to honor Edwin S. “Bud” Persons, who was a Senior Interior Architect with Helix.

Students Tania Chavez and Lauren Uhls shared the first prize, while Rachel Baier earned Honorable Mention.

Chavez’s design featured a curving form inspired by the movement of the planets around the sun; the building has multiple front doors and no formal “back.” The labs, classrooms and offices “revolve” around the centerpieces of the program: the planetarium, the observatory and the main auditorium.


Uhls, who has taken astronomy courses at UMKC, was inspired by the concept of collisions in space. Her design pairs educational elements housed in a tectonic, linear bar with an adjacent module with the observatory and the planetarium nested within a more organic, sculptural form.


Baier’s design divided the building’s elements between two rectangular parallel “bars,” with a winding, sloping path and sunken patios in-between.

The jury that judged the designs included:

  • Joy Swallow (UMKC Department of Architecture, Urban Planning + Design)
  • Doug Stockman (Helix Architecture and Design)
  • David Oliver (AUP+D Advisory Board, Berkowitz Oliver)
  • Aaron Schump (Kansas State University, Department of Architecture)
  • Mark Brodwin (UMKC Department of Physics and Astronomy)
  • Derek Moore (SOM Architecture)

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