Knox College's new $8.6 million Whitcomb Art Center has won a major award for its builder, and its innovative and outstanding construction.
P.J. Hoerr, Inc, of Peoria, the general contractor for the project, has been named "Master Builder of the Year" for 2016 by Star Building Systems. Star manufactured many of the structural elements for the Whitcomb Art Center, including wall and roof sections.
Named in honor of the lead donors, Knox alumni Dick and Joan Whitcomb, the 30,000-square-foot center houses studios, classrooms and offices for art and art history, including painting, drawing, print-making, ceramics, sculpture, metal and woodworking, photography, graphic design and digital media.
Built by P.J. Hoerr and designed by Lake|Flato Architects, the center opened for use in January 2017.
"The Whitcomb Art Center is beautiful as well as a technologically innovative learning and working environment," said Knox College President Teresa Amott. "We are proud that our general contractor, P.J. Hoerr, has received this well deserved recognition."
From the builder's standpoint, the Whitcomb Art Center was a very unusual project, explained Kirk Anderson, vice president of P.J. Hoerr. "Typically, a metal building is one big box, with a relatively flat roof," Anderson said. "The Whitcomb Center is five buildings connected in an L-shape, with a complex sawtooth roof."
P.J. Hoerr is a certified Star Builder and previously won the Master Builder award for its work on the headquarters of Maui Jim, a manufacturer of sunglasses based in Peoria.
The Master Builder of the Year award is recognition on several levels—materials, design, and construction—which all focus on supporting teaching, learning, research and creative work by students and faculty at Knox, according to Mark Holmes, associate professor and chair of Knox's art department.
"Visual artists work in space," Holmes said. "Knox student and faculty artists needed more space, more flexible space, better space for advanced resources. A metal building is by far the most affordable and graceful way to enclose a large space."
"The Whitcomb Center also breaks the mold of the typical metal building with its massive amount of glass," Anderson said. "Approximately 40% of the exterior is glass. The unusually high-pitched, asymmetrical 'sawtooth' roofs also have skylights, bringing in a good deal of natural light. To control direct sunlight on the west side of the building, the windows can be shaded by large, sliding panels."
"The amount of daylight is a huge benefit," Holmes said. "Students can see their work in good light. They can critique their work in good light, they can make better color choices."
The Knox art department was formerly located in the Ford Center for the Fine Arts, which opened in 1964. The former art department areas are being renovated for use by Knox's dance and theatre programs.
Below, Whitcomb Art Center, sculpture class, Master Builder Award