Minneapolis architect Steven Dwyer sat in a hotel room a few years ago, preparing to present his design for Boise State’s Center for Fine Arts. He had the television on in the background, tuned to a local morning news broadcast.
The backdrop behind the anchors was of the view from The Boise Depot to the Statehouse.
“At that point, I realized how prominent this building will be. It will rise above the Micron building, and push out toward Capitol Boulevard,” Dwyer said. “It will change that iconic view and make an important statement.”
That architectural statement is only part of the equation. The stakes are high.
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This newest building in BSU's landscape is intended to be a “gateway to the campus;” a significant addition to Boise’s visual landscape; a bridge from the university to the larger arts world; and the magnum opus of the impressive 15-year tenure of retiring BSU President Bob Kustra.
“This building will be the crowning achievement of my time here,” he told Treasure Magazine in 2017. “Having that building represents not just the art department, but all that the arts and humanities have to offer the people of Idaho.”
The $45 million building broke ground in May 2017. Within it, Boise State’s fine arts departments will unite in one, state-of-the-art, world-class building. Those departments — art history, printmaking, metal arts, painting, ceramics, sculpture and others — now are scattered across campus in antiquated buildings filled with outdated equipment and utility systems.
Perched on the west side of campus, along Capitol Boulevard between the Morrison Center for the Performing Arts and the Micron Business and Economics Building, the new CFA is poised to become a showpiece in the city’s skyline by the time it opens in fall 2019.
The goal is to create a building of artist studios, classrooms and gallery spaces that will elevate the art being created here and Boise State’s profile regionally and nationally. It was a expectation set by Kustra, Dwyer said. "It was an incredibly bold expectation that we tried to match."
Here’s how the design came together
The Boise architectural firm LCA Architects won the contract in 2013. The company has a long history with Boise State and the city. It designed the Morrison Center in 1984 and the BSU Alumni and Friends Center in 2015, the Wells Fargo Center at 9th and Main streets, in 1988 and the Ada County Courthouse along Front Street in 2002.
For this project, LCA partnered with Minneapolis’ HGA, an architectural firm with a deep national portfolio of fine arts structures.
In the pre-design process, the team led by Dwyer and Boise architect Casey Huse met with art professors and administrators to compile their specific needs, hopes and dreams for the building.
At the suggestion of then-art department chairman Richard Young, they put together a Visual Design Committee that included philanthropists Kay Hardy and Gregory Kaslo, artist and arts patroness Esther Oppenheimer and others to look at the project and give feedback along the way.
That level of community involvement is rare, Dwyer said.
“I’ve not experienced that before,” Dwyer said. “It’s a testament to the university knowing how prominent the building will be and that it will be received as it is intended. It was an enjoyable and comfortable process and not one we often get.”
When Dwyer made his presentation, he titled it “A Tale of Two Davids”: Talking Heads’ frontman David Byrne in his box-like suit he wore on the “Stop Making Sense” tour, and Michelangelo’s David to describe the evolution from traditional box to something more expressive.
'Not an engineering building'
Shortly after winning the contract there was a rush to get images so Boise State could start fundraising. Those renderings, though hurried, became the kernel for the finished elegant design, Dwyer said.
They took the main ideas — that the larger building would be to the north, the smaller to the south and in between there would be an visual entrance into the campus — and came up with preliminary renderings that were very much on the traditional side.
“Given Dr. Kustra’s aspirations it was too boxy,” Dwyer said. “So, we took that box and started to play with it.”
The design team literally sculpted the designs using a mix of design software and physical models rendered with a 3D printer that they manipulated and shaped.
“We wanted to bring some suppleness to the design to make the building more dynamic and not make it too crazy,” he said.
They wanted it to look like what it is: a place where artists work and create.
“We wanted refined and visually engaging forms and shapes,” Huse said. “This clearly is not an engineering building.”
Its lines are sleek, softly curved and elegant. The material, such as the blue aluminum tiles on the south building, will reflect the changing light throughout the day.
With all that, they’re structured around solid geometric shapes to make them affordable to build, Huse said.
“The gallery building is a modified trapezoid with a curved wall,” he said. “The north building is an elongated rectangle. The two buildings lean away from the center to provide the view.”
Despite the $45 million price tag, this easily could have been a $100 million building, but LCA and HGA worked to keep the costs in check.
“In construction, anytime you introduce curves or sharp corners it does increases the cost over a basic block build,” Huse said. “This is a public building so, a the project is budget driven. The design looks pretty spectacular but in terms of the details, we wanted to make it as simple as possible to build.”
They worked with Meridian based-ESI Construction as Construction Managers on keeping costs in check and to review buildability with regional trade partners. Local engineers from KPFF Structural Engineering, Musgrove Engineering, Eidam and Associates, and the Land Group helped them realize the design, along with support during early design stages from HGA’s in-house mechanical engineers.
They also worked with industrial hygienist Monona Rossol to ensure the art processes could be done safely. For example, art mediums like printmaking and photography require toxic chemicals and require special ventilation and other environmental precautions.
The five-story north section will contain artist studios, work spaces and classrooms.
Each floor is designed for a particular medium. Dirty and heavy processes such as ceramics will happen on the first level. The second is where you’ll find printmaking and metal work. The third floor will house spaces for photography and graphic arts.
Painting will be on the fourth with large windows to allow continuous natural light.
The glassed-in central lobby is designed to provide a view from Capitol Boulevard into the campus.
The section on the south will house gallery space that is being designed to meet national standards for major traveling exhibits., along side student galleries and a sound installation gallery.
As construction continues, there are still elements that are incomplete. BSU is still seeking about $3 to $4 million additional to complete the building, and the much touted virtual “World Museum” is still undesigned.
The World Museum is the most ambitious part of the CFA because it is something that doesn’t exist yet — a fully augmented-and virtual-reality based-gallery experience — without the glasses. There currently is a request for proposal out for technology and design consultants to invent it.
The goal of the "World Museum" is to make art from important galleries accessible to BSU students and the community at large. But it's also about the technology.
"We’re going to use this as a showcase for the latest technology in augmented reality and virtual reality technologies,” Kustra said. “And that’s going to blow people’s minds.”
It’s uncertain at this point to know if the building ultimately is a success, Dwyer said.
“Time will tell. I have a firm philosophy that you have to design for the long term. A building that will be liked on opening day is one thing," he said. "The real test is if it is well liked 50 years down the road.”
Correction: An earlier version of the story stated Bob Kustra had a 22-year tenure with Boise State. He has been president since 2003.