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University of Iowa News

Oct. 13, 2005

Blank Honors Center Wins State, Regional Architectural Honors

It turns out the architectural firm that designed the University of Iowa's new Blank Honors Center, which houses a center and programs dedicated to gifted education, is itself quite gifted.

Last month, regional and state chapters of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) presented Des Moines-based Herbert Lewis Kruse Blunck Architecture design awards for the company's work on the building. On Sept. 23, the AIA Central States Region presented the firm its Citation Award for Excellence in Architecture for the project, and a week later the AIA's Iowa Chapter presented the company its Iowa Honor Award for the building.

The regional award was decided by a panel of top architects from Seattle, Wash., while the state award was decided by a panel of architects from North Carolina. The Central States Region covers Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Missouri.

"A surprising sense of lightness in detail and form enriches this building," the jury for the AIA Central States Region awards commented. "The elevated dual block massing breaks down the scale of the building and the tall interior ground level passage creates a visible indoor/outdoor street as opposed to an inside corridor. The simple materials (metal panels, concrete and screen) are used elegantly and beautifully, and the skin literally dissolves so that the façades seem to not be there.

"Architects often wish we could stop construction at the structure and not have to 'skin' the building -- this one almost does it by illusion," the jury added.

The panel that selected the Blank Honors Center for the Iowa award said the design presented "a clear plan layered into three zones with a structural and mechanical 'mast' in the middle. Circulation is to one side of the mast with passages through it to offices on the other side. This is the work of a skillful, mature and confident architect -- thoughtful, yet bold."

The AIA awards programs are intended to encourage and recognize excellence in architecture, to elevate public awareness and to recognize the architects, consultants, contractors and owners whose efforts enhance the built environment.

Belin-Blank Director Nicholas Colangelo agreed with the critique of the building.

"The Blank Honors Center is practical as well as a work of art," he said. "The design and colors invite educational dialogue."

Honors Program Director John Nelson agreed.

"What we love about the building is how it helps honors students feel at home," Nelson said. "From the atrium and classrooms to the conversation clusters and the commons for activities, our setting for intellectual community is terrific."

The Blank Honors Center was one of 11 HLKB projects that netted Iowa AIA awards, and one of six that garnered regional awards. Other award-winning projects of HLKB's included the John and Mary Pappajohn Higher Education Center in Des Moines (AIA Iowa Honor Award and AIA Central States Region Merit Award for Excellence in Architecture), the McWethy Hall Renovation at Cornell College (AIA Iowa Honor Award), The Kimmel Theater/Youngker Hall & Armstrong Hall Renovation at Cornell (AIA Central States Region Honor Award for Excellence in Architecture) and the John Chrystal Center at Grinnell College (AIA Iowa Merit Award).

"The true success of this project is due to the collaborative nature of the design team -- the Belin-Blank Center, the Honors Program and Herbert Lewis Kruse Blunck," said Joshua Baker, AIA, an architect with HLKB and member of the team that designed the Blank Honors Center. "It has been our pleasure to work with a group of people that were truly as committed to creating good architecture as they are to enhancing the quality of education. It is my hope that this building not only meets the aspirations of the group but goes beyond what we originally envisioned, enhancing the community of gifted education and the natural/built environment that it shares."

Located on the T. Anne Cleary Walkway, behind Daum Residence Hall, the Blank Honors Center opened in early 2004 and houses the Connie Belin & Jacqueline N. Blank International Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development, as well as the UI Honors Program. By combining the programs, the UI became the first university in the nation to offer under a single roof programs, services and support for academically gifted and talented students all the way from kindergarten through college.

The center is named after the late Des Moines couple Myron and Jacqueline Blank, who donated $5 million toward the $14 million project.

UI Provost Michael Hogan called the Blank Honors Center an "extraordinary resource for our students."

"It's icing on the cake that the outside so beautifully reflects the vibrant activity happening inside," Hogan said.

PHOTOS: Exterior photos of the Blank Honors Center are available at the following links:

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Media: Stephen Pradarelli, 319-384-0007,