Kohrman Hall being renovated to house product design facilities

Contact: Jeanne Baron

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Western Michigan University began demolition and construction activities in December as part of a renovation project to make the first and third floors of Central Kohrman Hall a world-class home for the product design program.

Scheduled to open in fall 2018, the renovated spaces will house WMU's Bachelor of Fine Arts in product design. They also will serve as a base where key southwest Michigan corporate partners can find answers to their product design and talent development needs.

The B.F.A. program aims to prepare the next generation of product design innovators by providing four years of hands-on design education for each cohort of 20 students and will help to meet the growing design and manufacturing needs of southwest Michigan and the Midwest.

Offered by the Frostic School of Art since fall 2017, the program combines the resources of WMU's College of Fine Arts, College of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and Haworth College of Business. In addition, it was developed in collaboration with some of the local region's top names in manufacturing.

Renovation project

Drawing of the exterior of Central Kohrman Hall showing additional windows and areas of new hardscape.

Schematic illustration of how Central Kohrman's west exterior may look when the project is completed

Kohrman Hall served as home to the engineering college until 2003, when the college moved into Floyd Hall on what at the time was WMU's recently created Parkview Campus.

The Central Kohrman project involves some noticeable exterior improvements; renovation of about 28,000 square feet of available space on the first and third floors; and minor renovations on the second floor, along with the addition of a mechanical room and gender-neutral restrooms. The second floor will not be exclusive to the product design program, as various campus departments already utilize space there.

Much of the Frostic School of Art is housed in South Kohrman Hall and the Richmond Center for Visual Arts, which opened in 2003 and is named for James and Lois Richmond, a Kalamazoo couple with a passion for the arts and a history of executive leadership in the community. The College of Aviation advising unit as well as the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences occupy North Kohrman.

Michael Elwell, associate professor of art and director of the product design program, says Central Kohrman's renovated third floor will contain student studio areas while the first floor will include administrative offices, presentation spaces and workshops outfitted with fabrication tools and equipment.

"Our studios, presentation spaces and laboratories will be dedicated to innovation, fabrication, rapid prototyping, 3D printing, and woodworking and metalworking," Elwell says. "Much like the product design program itself, which seeks to fuel local industry with bright, innovative talent, the Central Kohrman Hall upgrade involves input from numerous southwest Michigan firms."

He notes that the Kalamazoo commercial construction company AVB Inc. is managing the project, while more than a dozen area subcontractors are contributing to the effort. In addition, efficiency and sustainability are at the forefront of the design process, so the project will be a sustainable design with the goal of achieving LEED Silver Certification.

Spurring innovation

The product design program was in development for nearly three years before being announced in late 2016 in conjunction with a leadership gift of $3 million from James and Lois Richmond. Bob Brown and the Monroe-Brown Foundation provided key initial funding, and Southwest Michigan First's growing group of regional companies known as MIX has been actively involved, as well.

"We've successfully created a contemporary program that is responsive to today's design landscape, one that encourages students to deeply consider the interactions between people and products," Elwell says. "Unlike other schools, we don't focus solely on technical skills. Our curriculum is oriented toward collaboration, entrepreneurship and design thinking, so our students will be prepared to be successful leaders and strategists."

Daniel Guyette, dean of the WMU College of Fine Arts, says that orientation will prove to be a boon to businesses as well as students. The product design program's MIX group has started expanding to include partners in the Holland and Zeeland area. Plus, it will be accepting sponsored projects as well as sponsored thesis research from group members and other regional corporations.

"Kalamazoo and the surrounding area is a hotbed of design and manufacturing activity. Local corporations are in constant need of professionals to contribute forward-thinking products, systems and solutions," Guyette continues. "The world-class programming in our engineering, business and fine arts areas render WMU uniquely equipped to provide cutting-edge training and produce the type of innovators these companies seek."

For more information, contact Michael Elwell at michael.elwell@wmich.edu or (269) 387-2531.

For more WMU news, arts and events, visit wmich.edu/news.