New journalism institute links past, present and future

Glass atrium

COLUMBIA — MU's "red campus": traditional, brick, Jeffersonian, neoclassical.

The new Reynolds Journalism Institute: modern, futuristic, convergent, cutting edge.

"It's an exciting new space where you can feel the energy of things being invented," said Brian Brooks , associate dean of the Missouri School of Journalism, which as part of its centennial is dedicating the new building Friday.

Located on the northeast end of Francis Quadrangle, it houses a revamped journalism program and an institute seeking to revitalize an industry. The program is one created for journalism's new age — an age in which normalcy includes screens for virtual seminars in the conference room, a translator's booth in the Fred W. Smith Forum and broadcast facilities in the Futures Lab to test products for real media audiences. The institute's 47,000 square feet of facilities were geared for the shift.

The design is also meant to meld the old and new, to incorporate a revolutionary program into a traditional campus setting. The neoclassical architecture of the red-bricked Quadrangle, the oldest part of campus, was modeled on Jefferson's column and dome creation at the University of Virginia. The entire Francis Quadrangle Historic District is on the National Register of Historic Places. Building on it creates a challenge.

Project architect Mike Shaughnessy and his team decided on an older-looking brick exterior and a modern interior to match the school's vision.

"Our solution was to make a distinctive break as one crosses the entrance threshold from the traditional architectural context to the exciting changing world of journalism," Shaughnessy said. "We wanted students to walk through the doors and immediately recognize the purpose and the vision."

Libbi Gordon , a sophomore on the strategic communications track, called the building spectacular. "When I walk through the front doors, there's a certain sense of awe, which is very inspiring," Gordon said.

Under the design, both the former Sociology Building and Walter Williams Hall were renovated and then connected by what Shaughnessy called a "link" but is, in essence, a third building. To increase the number of floors in sociology from three to four, the interior was removed and a new concrete structure was placed within its brick shell.

"This allowed the space needs to be accomplished within the constraints of the site while maintaining the unique historical qualities of the exterior," Shaughnessy said.

"The top two floors of the Sociology Building are essentially a glass box in an 1892 exterior," Brooks said.

Thanks to the creation of these floor levels and window placement, the floors now hit in between lines of windows, creating a more open light scheme, Shaughnessy said.

"The use of natural light is spectacular and difficult from an architectural standpoint," Brooks said.

Although all journalism tracks are incorporating the Web, the strategic communication and convergence journalism concentrations already have a specific focus in new forms of media and will be the main benefactors of the new space.

The attempt to strike a balance between old and new architecture has generated some criticism.

"I'd prefer to see something that uses the language of the 21st century," said Keith Eggener , MU associate professor of art history. "This is the safe, tame approach." The new architecture, he said, doesn't quite rise to the level of the old. "It tries too hard to contextualize itself within an earlier time period."

Eggener wants to see something that shows it was built in this century. "Not enough architecture on campus takes a risk," he said.

"It sticks out more onto Ninth (Street) than any other building," said Elizabeth Hornbeck , MU assistant teaching professor in English.

"It eats up too much of the green," she said, commenting on the open-faced front of the Reynolds Institute's middle link.

She does, however like the formal entrance onto Ninth Street, which the other buildings along Francis Quadrangle do not have. "It welcomes the traffic from the well-traveled thoroughfare," she said.

Shaughnessy said that when building on the quadrangle, a set of design principles limit what architects should consider. For example, they had to take into consideration the architecture of the established area, along with the amount and size of open spaces.

"A modern building was not an option," Brooks said. "Personally, I think it's a nice transition (from outside to in)."

Eggener believes such a building should have a dual purpose. "An important new university building like this one should seek to inspire and well as accommodate," he said. "This one merely accommodates."

Architectural problems during the 2½-year project included maneuvering the floors and the close proximity of the two original buildings. "We wanted a person in a wheelchair coming from the ground, second or third floor of Walter Williams to be able to go through all three buildings on the same floor, without using the stairs," Shaughnessy said. The leveling was difficult as the Sociology Building stood a striking 866 feet at the apex of its tower and needed to connect to a lower Walter Williams.

All of the floors revolve around a central atrium located through the main doors of the link. This atrium, Shaughnessy said, is orienting and shows how the floors are connected and the building is unified.

"As soon as you come in, you get a feeling for the structure," he said, "The forum and the futures lab are two important spaces for students to work."

Although the entire space is geared toward the future of international relations, the forum on the third level goes to extremes to make such interactions simple. The room — with a whiff of "Star Trek" about it — is set up with television broadcast capabilities, as well as a translation booth appropriate for the Journalism School's wide-ranging international ties.

Then there are the modern appointments throughout the building: wavy, black benches, a glass-floored walkway, curvilinear tables, swivel chairs, red carpeting with geometric patterns and an overall impression of glass and metal. But in corners and pockets, there are unexpected notes from the past: exposed brick walls, wooden railings and doors and marble flooring.

"This is the best space the journalism program has ever had," Brooks said. "It gives (us) facilities that are worthy of the world's first school of journalism."

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