he College of Visual Arts and Design (CVAD) at the University of North Texas is one of the largest art schools in the country and a major hub of innovation for the Dallas Fort Worth area. In 2019 Machado Silvetti, as Design Architect in collaboration with Local Architect Corgan, completed a renovation and significant expansion of the existing CVAD arts building to create a new 220,000 ft2 facility large enough to accommodate their over-two thousand person student-body. The new facility matches CVAD’s ambitions and national success, setting a new standard in studio, workshop and teaching spaces for innovative and interdisciplinary arts and design education.
The original Arts Building, designed by the Dallas firm, Clutts and Parker, was built in 1970 as a purpose-built home for the Department of Art. However, after forty-five years of intensive use, large enrollment numbers and extensive course offerings, the College of Visual Arts and Design was forced to seek out studio and teaching spaces wherever room was available across the UNT campus. A major goal of the CVAD project was to bring the majority of critical programs back under one roof and reestablish the CVAD building as a clearly identifiable home for the College of Visual Arts and Design.
Recognizing that unification of the College was the single most important design mandate and sensitive to concerns among staff and students that there would be segregation between programs located in the renovated, or new buildings, Machado Silvetti established the motto ‘One College One Building’. Critical to the formalization of this motto is the blurring of boundaries between the renovated building to the west and the new additions on the east. To this end, the renovated and new buildings share a common structural grid and floor-level alignments, and are organized around a central courtyard space.
Located at the northeast corner of the UNT campus, the College of Visual Arts and Design defines the northern edge of the academic core and Arts District and serves as a major anchor of the previously established Arts Walk. Prior to the expansion and renovation project, the existing arts building stood as an island at the corner of campus—closed-off and isolated. The addition’s architecture and landscape design now fully integrate CVAD within the University by establishing and strengthening visual and spatial connections with existing campus buildings and spaces. These connections are reinforced by complimentary landscape design and the innovative incorporation of campus material palettes into the building’s façades and public spaces.
To make CVAD a fully integrated part of the campus, the ground level was designed to be porous with multiple entrance portals to extend the campus path network into and through the newly created courtyard. Primary building entrances into the existing west wing and newly constructed east addition are accessed from the courtyard to establish a shared entry experience. It is a recognizable campus-scale entrance, which the original building had lacked, and that further helps to establish the CVAD building on campus as the clearly identifiable home for the College of Visual Arts and Design.
Sized to hold the entire College of Visual Arts and Design student body for graduation and formal school ceremonies, the courtyard has become a campus destination. To showcase student work and open the College to the public, this outdoor CVAD living room supports a range of happenings from outdoor fashion shows to public art film screenings and student work installations. Additionally, a cafe along the southern pedestrian allée encourages students and faculty from all parts of campus to spend time in the shady arts building courtyard.
The CVAD addition, sits at an important intersection between the edge of campus and the city of Denton, acting as both gateway and link between communities. Previously, the exciting work being produced and displayed within the CVAD was largely hidden from public view in the existing concrete building. The new facility with its public face on the corner of Mulberry and Welch uses transparency and programs to create new and exciting connections to the Denton and larger Dallas/Fort Worth arts community. Events in the galleries and courtyard draw audiences from across UNT, the City of Denton and the larger region.
Prior to the new CVAD, Space and infrastructural limitations within the existing building forced the College to seek left over spaces across UNT’s vast campus to house printmaking, fashion design, photography, ceramics and a wide range of digital media, design, art history and art education programs. This geographic dispersion of studios, workshops and classrooms challenged the College’s efforts to build a cohesive and cross disciplinary culture amongst its many strong departments, and was a primary motivator creating the new CVAD.
Machado Silvetti worked closely with the faculty and staff of the College of Visual Arts and Design and the UNT Office of Facilities, Planning, Design and Construction to assess and advance programming. The reconciliation of tightly controlled program area and budget constraints and the unique space and technical requirements of art production spaces required a series of difficult choices to be made during this process.
The new CVAD unifies and breaks down physical barriers between departments, through innovative architecture, space planning, and systems design. It creates a highly dynamic building which promotes cross-disciplinary collaboration and research. The mantra of “windows not doors” was a recurring theme throughout the programming phase. This motto underlined the desire to break programs out of their confining walls and encourage students and faculty to observe and be inspired by the work of their colleagues and peers.
For such a large building tasked with holding nearly the entire CVAD program and providing the needed space and technologies for these departments, while simultaneously promoting a sense of community and enabling opportunities for collaboration, it was paramount to have a clear set of organizing principles. Circulation alignments, framed long views along corridors between the east and west, and common views of the shared courtyard unify the building. The primary east-west corridors act as Main Streets on each floor, with generous views into classrooms and studio spaces, and areas within these wide corridors that can be used as pin-up/critique spaces. Continuity in lighting, systems controls, finishes, furniture and equipment all help to reinforce this blurring of new and old.
In 2018 Machado Silvetti returned to campus for the design of an additional Studio Arts Facility for CVAD. This facility houses two programs that were not able to be relocated in the first project in 2015 due to space and budget limitations. With similarly tight budget constraints, the new facility needed to be highly functional, flexible and adaptable. It will house spaces for instruction, critique, display, manufacturing, and exhibition for the ceramics and graduate programs. The team investigated a number of different locations and orientations balancing the visions outlined in the 2013 UNT Campus Master Plan with creating a cohesive arts precinct for the College of Visual Arts and Design and its potential future growth for its renowned Texas Fashion Collection. The chosen project site is the northeast corner of Welch and Mulberry Street in the block adjacent to the CVAD facility.
The one story Arts Studio Facility has a front address to the town on Mulberry Street and its west façade is directly engaged in a dialogue with the CVAD building. The space between these two buildings will remain a much needed parking lot for the University in the near term with the ability to accommodate the Campus Master Plan in the future—placing a campus building of similar stature along Welch street and creating a second and equally successful arts courtyard on axis with CVAD’s courtyard and breezeway.
Owner: University of North Texas
Design Architect: Machado Silvetti
Architect of Record: Corgan
Landscape Architect: OJB Landscape Architecture
Structural Engineer: Datum Gojer
MEP Engineer: Purdy McGuire
Civil Engineer: Pacheco Koch
Lighting Design: Lam Partners
General Contractor: Hunt Construction
Arts Studio Facility:
Design Architect: Machado Silvetti
Architect of Record: VAI Architects
Structural Engineer: Datum Rios
MEP Engineer: Campos Engineering
Civil Engineer/Landscape Architect: Pacheco Koch
Photographs: Authorship noted in captions
*All drawings and renderings are attributable to Machado Silvetti