Bertram and Judith Kohl Building - Oberlin College

Arconic Architectural Products

The Bertram and Judith Kohl Building, the new home for the Jazz Studies Program at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, is a virtual rhapsody in Reynobond ACM. Planning for a new building to house the rapidly growing Jazz Studies Program began in 2005. The school looked at many sites for the new building, ultimately settling on a parking lot next to the conservatory and adjacent to the city's shopping area. The site and resulting design for the building re-established the founding axis of Oberlin by creating a visual and physical green space running from Tappan Square through the area between the existing conservatory and the Kohl Building to provide a natural flow for pedestrian traffic.

Westlake Reed Leskosky of Cleveland, OH, was originally commissioned to design an addition to the existing conservatory that would meet LEED Gold standards. After a preliminary design for an addition to the back of one of the existing conservatory buildings indicated that the structure would block all site lines, the architects decided to push the Kohl Building further east, away from the back of the buildings and connect them with a bridge. This allows the visual axis to flow under the bridge from the front door of the Kohl Building to the historic neighborhood to the south. The building footprint, limited by site constraints, was further reduced to incorporate the exterior space as part of the structure. "The building is shoehorned into the space," commented Lead Project Designer Jonathan C. Kurtz, AIA, of Westlake Reed Leskosky, "but it feels right - denser and urbanized." The $24 million, three-story, 37,000-square-foot Kohl Building opened in May 2010.

"From the beginning, we planned to clad the exterior in aluminum," said Kurtz. "It was a natural choice as the City of Oberlin sits above one of the largest deposits of bauxite ore in the country. And it was here, in 1886, that Charles Martin Hall, an Oberlin alumni and one of the founders of Alcoa, developed the cost-efficient process for obtaining aluminum from aluminum oxide that brought aluminum into widespread use." Upon his success, Hall became a great benefactor to his alma mater. The Tappan Square property, on which the Kohl Building now stands, was just one of his generous gifts to the school.

The architects worked closely with the Riverside Group of Windsor, Ontario, Canada and their DesignAssist Program throughout the planning process to access their extensive material options and technical expertise. Riverside fabricated and installed 25,000 square feet of Reynobond ACM, 4 mm, PE core, with a custom Pre-weathered Zinc Durabrite® finish over Brushed Aluminum for the exterior walls; and 3,000 square feet of Reynobond ACM, 4 mm, PE core with an Anodic Clear finish for the soffits of the building. The architects also used color to tie the new conservatory building to the existing campus designed in the 1960s by the noted architect, Minoru Yamaski. Constructed of pre-cast concrete with a finish that's almost opalescent, the Yamaski buildings appear to transform under different light. To mimic the dynamics of the surface, Riverside and Alcoa developed a custom finish for the ACM that also appears to transform as the light changes. The ACM is further accented by the use of Brazilian Ipé hardwood siding at the entrance to add material texture. The wood, harvested from a sustainable forest, will weather naturally to a silver color that ties it to the aluminum and creates a coherent vernacular for the campus.

The design for the new Kohl Building is composed of three basic elements: an aluminum exterior, which wraps and encloses the programmatic elements; openings created by cutting and peeling away the ACM shell; and an abundance of daylight streaming into the building. To meet the LEED criteria, the design team selected Riverside's R4-300 dry-joint, pressure equalized rainscreen system. Working from a 3D model, the Riverside Group surveyed the entire façade substrate to create a 3D model of the precise geometry of the façade. They then custom designed each piece to suit the actual built conditions. This approach enabled them to create the 3D forms, an integral part of the buildings features with great precision. The Krill Co. of Cleveland, OH, was the general contractor for the project.

The innovative new home for the Oberlin Conservatory of Music's acclaimed Jazz Studies Program visually broadcasts its purpose to all who see it. Much like a musical composition, the windows on the aluminum-clad eastern wall appear to dance across the façade. Windows of different sizes that correspond to the windows in the Yamaski Conservatory Buildings align with a syncopated rhythm to look out on different views. Practice rooms and rehearsal spaces with more stringent acoustical requirements are concentrated on the two lower levels, with faculty offices located on the upper level. According to the Westlake Reed Leskosky design brief, "The vertical progression of spaces to the third story lounge and offices correlates to the movement from acoustic sensitivity to the visual openness of the landscape, culminating in the roof garden."

According to Kurtz, meeting LEED certification was interesting due to the unique requirements of a music building, which houses a large collection of Steinway pianos and other instruments, because of the need to maintain the right humidity levels for the instruments. Sustainable features include geothermal heating and cooling with radiant panels, energy-efficient systems and lighting, a green roof system and storm water run-off collection and filtration. Sustainably harvested materials were used throughout. The project was designed to achieve energy performance greater than 40% higher than the ASHRAE 90.1 baseline. Also important: the tight integration of acoustic, energy, comfort and air quality considerations, and a geothermal radiant system, which reduces the need for duct work in the walls, floors and ceilings that compromise acoustics.

The Bertram and Judith Kohl Building houses a world-class recording studio; flexible rehearsal and performance spaces, teaching studios, practice rooms, a glass-enclosed social hub, an archive of the largest Jazz recording collection in the US, as well as, collections of rare instruments and jazz photographs from the 1950s.

About Arconic Architectural Products

Arconic-logo-previewArconic Architectural Products manufacturers metal composite material and single-skin metal claddings for use in both exterior and interior applications. For more information, visit

^ Back To Top