When ownership of the former state fairgrounds in Lincoln was transferred to the University of Nebraska Lincoln for the creation of Innovation Campus, the future of the historic Industrial Arts Building was in doubt. The 99 year-old structure has gone unused since 2004 and is in disrepair. But the University and private developers now plan to renovate the building to house research labs on the main floor and greenhouses on a newly constructed second floor. In many ways, it will be a different building altogether. Grant Gerlock of NET News talked to Dan Worth of Bahr, Vermeer, Haecker Architects, the firm leading the restoration of the exterior of the Industrial Arts Building, about the building's long history, and how some of that history will be restored.
GRANT GERLOCK, NET NEWS: Who was Burd F. Miller, the architect of the Industrial Arts Building?
DAN WORTH, BVH ARCHITECTS: Burd was an Omaha architect. Burd (Miller) also designed another building close to here, the Arsenal Building by the Devaney Sports Center. If you look at that building it has many of the same characteristics of this building. Same brick. Some of the same detailing. But (Miller) was a prominent Omaha architect. He designed many prominent Omahan's homes in the Dundee and University area, Gold Coast area. He also did a few here in Lincoln, too. We haven't quite tracked all of them down, But yes he designed this building and I believe it was in 1912 and 1913.
GERLOCK: What else do you know about the building? Why is it the way it is and how was it used over time?
WORTH: Well, the building was designed originally as Agricultural Hall, and then it evolved into the Industrial Arts Building after the 4-H building was built and all the agricultural exhibits were moved over to the 4H building. When it was first built it contained this wonderful 4 or 5 story space on the interior with a mezzanine that surrounded the entire trapezoidal space. As you can see on the outside it has a number of arched openings with individual doors that would accommodate different exhibitors as they would come and install their exhibits and unload them and pass them through and set them up on the interior. So it was primarily used for showcasing the most innovative agricultural products and techniques at the time.
GERLOCK: When you look at it now, a 99 year-old building, what impresses you as an architect?
WORTH: Its durability. I think the form is unique. The spaces are unique. It's lasted through some of the ravages. It's at its tipping point, no doubt about that. But it was built at a time when buildings were put together in a very durable manner.
GERLOCK: So the idea of bringing new life to the industrial arts building. How do you take a building that was put together in 1913 and make it useful for researchers in 2013 when they hope to move in?
WORTH: Well, in the case of the use that's been proposed, you know, it's marrying the restraints that are given to you by the historic building - it's fabric, its shape, its form, its construction - with a new use. And it takes some creative problem solving skills and some technical adaptability and know-how to marry those two together and try to, on one hand maintain the historic integrity, while allowing the program of the new use to function adequately and to its best ability.
GERLOCK: But is it trying to put a square peg into a round hole or do you see ways this can come together in a way that really works?
WORTH: Well, initially we feel pretty good that this new use will work. We will have to remove a substantial amount of the interior structure in order for this new use, this new greenhouse research use, to fit within the confines of the historic wall shapes and availability. But we're pretty confident that we'll be able to get it to work.
GERLOCK: So some of those features, like the mezzanine, and the steelwork across the ceiling. Those are basically going away.
WORTH: Yes. In order for this new use to work in the building we will have to compromise and remove those pieces to be able to insert the two-story high bay work space and a new structured floor that the new greenhouses would sit upon.
GERLOCK: What about the fa ade, the exterior?
WORTH: I think the fa ade is one of the most significant features of the building besides the interior space. So the goal of this concept is to maintain the historic fa ade in its current configuration. Restore its past glory. Repair the masonry. Repair the openings. Restore the cornice work. As you've walked around you've seen a lot of medallions between the arches that have been either removed or hammered off at some point in time. It's our hope to restore all those elements and restore it to its past glory.
GERLOCK: So we look at the side we see the arched spaces. Did that look different at first?
WORTH: Yes. Where the roof meets the top of the wall you can see the roof edge has been enclosed by some kind of panel system at some point. That had a decorative cornice that went the full length of the building and that's either been covered over or removed at some point. So our hopes are to remove that and return that to its original detail. The brick colonnades that separate the arches along the entire length of the building, you can see at the top of those brick columns, you'll see some areas that appear to have some plaster with kind of a ghostlike remnant of a cartouche. It's a decorative element that was once attached to the tops of these columns. We aren't quite sure if that was made of metal, plaster, or a stone piece that was chiseled off. Down below along the base of the building you can see where there are doors and windows. Some have been altered radically. Again these openings would be restored to bring light into the new high bay research area. And then the brick fa ade itself, the brick is in very good condition. The mortar joints will need some repair, some tuck-pointing. And then the concrete plaster base. You can see some cracking. That's going to need some restoration work as well.
GERLOCK: But these are the original bricks that we see on the exterior today.
WORTH: These are the original bricks yeah. Once the greenhouses have been added and all the openings around base have been restored it will be an interesting site coming over bypass. It will be lit up and night because research greenhouses are lit 24/7. It's been described as a beacon at the front door of the innovation campus.
GERLOCK: As you think about what it will look like with from the top with new greenhouses, and below with the historic fa ade. How do you bring those together?
WORTH: We'll have to bring some design to the greenhouses and corner offices. Early thoughts and renderings suggest they'll have a sloped roof reminiscent of original roof. It will be a blend of historic and contemporary. Sometimes that sets up interesting dialogue between new and old. Hopefully it will start to give the public this insight as to how important our agriculture has been to the history of our state and how it will contribute to the future of our state.
By way of full disclosure Bahr, Vermeer, Haecker Architects is an NET Radio underwriter.