Academic Architecture

WSU Old Town

WSU Old Town Case Study By WDM Architects 1
Luke Scott touring the facility and documenting existing conditions at the beginning of the project

From Open Office to Medical Education Center

In 2002, Airbus opened its design and engineering facility in Wichita, Kansas. They had renovated the Coleman Company’s historic red-brick factory warehouses for adaptive reuse as offices in the Old Town district.

In March 2015, Airbus announced a plan to move from Old Town to a newly built facility on WSU’s Innovation Campus. Subsequently, WSU arranged to renovate the 213 N. Mead location to expand their growing Old Town campus.

WDM Architects held an “On-Call” contract with WSU and joined the project for programming. This led to further work: space planning and schematic design through construction administration.

By 2017, less than 2 years later, WSU’s Physical Therapy and Physician’s Assistant programs and associated WSU Tech’s health profession programs found a new home in the five interconnected factory buildings along the railroad tracks.

Architectural Program and Space Planning

Though this project had a condensed schedule, it did have a formal programming phase. WSU provided the base program information, which was primarily in the form of a space list.

From this list, Stan Landwehr, WDM principal, did a preliminary blocking diagram. By roughly making blocks according to the basic square footage of each listed space, he tackled a first step in developing the floorplan.

“For instance, I know I need a classroom this size and I need four of them,” he explains. “I just quickly take those square footages, make a block and figure out where they fit in.”

In the photo above, the blocks are color-coded for each group: WSU Physical Therapy, WSU Physician’s Assistants and WATC programs. A fourth group represents offices and shared spaces like student commons.

A quick look comparing the blocking diagram to the actual building footprint reveals there wasn’t nearly enough room for everything.

“There was this huge building, but not everything was going to fit,” agrees Luke Scott, project architect. “There were going to be some sacrifices.”

WDM coordinated workshops with each group, trying to understand and meet everyone’s needs in the building.

They started by looking at what spaces could serve dual purposes, and if the overall number of requested classrooms could be reduced with better scheduling, doubling up usage by alternating class times between programs.

“So we could help them see that yes, you want eight 50-person classrooms, but how often do you use that classroom? Could you get by with four just by scheduling differently?” explains Landwehr.

WDM’s team worked closely with WSU’s Facilities Planning and the various departments to flesh out the specific equipment and requirements for each area as they quickly progressed through an expedited planning and design process.

WDM’s ability to identify requirements along with a deliberate approach to coordinate across disciplines served to effectively pull together the final programming data over the duration of the project.

WDM Architects Design Details

The predominantly open area was restructured into classrooms, labs, and associated office space. WDM strategically designed the gathering areas under the existing skylights to utilize natural light above.

“Working with the various departments and different schools within the college — we were able to bring it together.” — Luke Scott, WDM’s Project Manager

Incorporated Into The Design:

  • Multiple existing clerestory windows for natural light

  • Original wood flooring where possible

  • Lecture-style and team-collaboration classrooms

  • Meeting rooms

  • Commons areas with lockers and vending

  • Break rooms

  • Both shared and private office space

  • Simulated hospital environment

  • Simulated apartment for Home Healthcare training

WSU Old Town Case Study by WDM Architects-2
Top Image: Comprised of 5 interconnected buildings, the facility has various roof and truss shapes and heights throughout • Bottom Image: WSU Old Town’s floor plan

Biggest Challenge: Adding Walls within a Complex Ceiling Structure

Converting open office space to classrooms would require the addition of many walls. Once the basic spaces were blocked out during the schematic design phase, the next challenge was aligning the plan to the existing space.

“The key issue was we had a lot of classrooms that needed noise isolation and speech privacy,” says Landwehr. “To provide the right acoustics, the walls need to go all the way up to the roof deck” and be “as monolithic as possible.”

Only the mass of the sheet rock with some insulation can dampen vibrations to get acoustic privacy between rooms. Sound travels right through the ceiling tiles. If walls stop at ceiling height, sound travels across the top of them and back through the ceiling into adjacent rooms.

The biggest challenge of this project was aligning new construction with the various existing ceiling structures.

The interconnected factory buildings had varying ceiling heights of 12-14 feet, with the top 3 to 8 feet occupied by a complex series of trusses, vents, columns, skylights and various suspended fixtures.

“We didn’t want to have walls come up half-in and half-out of a truss,” explains Landwehr. “We wanted to make sure if we were to have a wall there, it completely missed that truss even if it was like a half of an inch.”

Bring in the big guns

Further complicating an already complex situation, no blueprints existed. Landwehr turned to new technology to map the space, laser scanning.

Laser scanners send out pulses of light and then time how long it takes to reflect back. These detailed and accurate measurements, compiled together, can become a “point cloud.”

“In fact, there was a Coke machine sitting somewhere and you can read the Coca-Cola logo just because it reflected the light differently from the laser,” notes Landwehr.

Accurate measurements from the laser scanner’s point cloud were used by WDM to create accurate architectural drawings.

Before laser scanning, architects had to take the time to go out and field measure everything, and particularly challenging with all the exposed truss work at the ceiling.

“We ended up saving time and money,” by using the laser says Scott, “and saved the contractor time and money.”


Mapping existing sewer lines

WDM hired a plumber to drop a sewer camera in a manhole. The camera snaked through the sewer lines below ground while the plumber used a hand-held device above ground to track the camera. Once the location of the camera was pin-pointed, WDM’s team would take measurements from the existing columns or walls to map out the sewer lines, then mark them on the floor plan.


Tracing out the sewer lines was just “like a colonoscopy but on a much bigger scale,” laughs Landwehr.


Historical Day-lighting

Typical of factories and warehouses of the late 19th century, the buildings had skylights for task-lighting with natural light. A series of pointed ridges, resembling the teeth of a saw, are on the roof running east to west. The north face of the “tooth” is glazed to allow a more diffuse light to penetrate deep into the building. The south face is solid, which blocks heat and glare from direct sunlight from the south.

WDM and WSU both found it important to preserve as much natural light as possible. So Landwehr worked to position public spaces and corridors under skylights, “but that kind of curtailed where we could do classrooms.” In some cases, walls had creative ledges to direct the light into the interior.

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Some walls (red) were angled at the top to access the maximum natural light from clerestory (yellow). Walls (red) extend to the roof deck (green) for better sound-proofing between classrooms

Special Safety Code Considerations

“This project tied together a lot of different aspects of architecture: healthcare, academic and historic. Being able to bring all those types of architecture together and use different pieces of knowledge made it rewarding.” — Stan Landwehr, Principle-in-Charge

Healthcare Occupancy Regulations

Even though the facility is not an I-Occupancy but is merely a teaching lab; door widths, corridor width, med gas, and cross corridor walls were designed to I-Occupancy standards for realistic training simulations for the students.

Delayed Egress Exiting

The west side of the building is the retaining wall for a railroad overpass. Exit access is only on the south and east faces of the building. Delayed egress exiting was used on two of the five exit paths to allow certain clinical areas of the building to remain secure while still allowing the required exiting (quantity and distance) in the event of an emergency.

Adapting this historic building to meet modern building codes while still maintaining the openess of the interior was challenging. WDM worked with the local code officials to develop creative solutions for code compliance without compromising its historic character.

Sprinkler Curtain Separation

The facility is composed of five separate buildings that have been interconnected over the years. Since it has five separate electrical services, each building had to be ‘separated’ from the adjacent buildings with a closely spaced fire sprinkler curtain despite the building not needing any other fire separations based on construction type and occupancy.

Clinical Skills Lab

To facilitate the best learning environment possible, a simulated hospital was designed with every detail. Simulation spaces were located into one area of the building so full-scale mock drills with community partners could be conducted.

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Simulated OR for teaching

Simulated hospital area:

  • Full-scale ICU rooms
  • Birthing room
  • Operating theater with scrub sink facilities
  • Exam rooms
  • Physical therapy gyms
  • SynDaver® (synthetic cadaver) dissection room
  • Nursing stations
  • Charting kiosks
  • Patient bathrooms to learn transfer techniques
  • Extra scrub-in sinks*
  • Simulated environment included details like:
  • Mock wall-mounted gas hook-up nozzles
  • Mounted ophthalmoscope, otoscope, blood pressure cuffs
  • Wall-mounted patient monitor
  • Wall-mounted gloves and foam sanitizer
  • Wall-mounted sharps containers
  • Eye chart
  • Plaster trap needed on one sink for casting
  • Autoclave for Surgical Tech
  • Blood Draw chairs
  • Emergency power shut-down capability

“An interesting part of the project was to accurately recreate a healthcare environment like the exam rooms and ICU rooms for hands-on student learning, down to every detail so that during student drills, they even have a simulated button on the wall to turn on the power generator in case of a power outage.” — Luke Scott, WDM Project Manager

* Each student takes 5-10 minutes to scrub in, multiplied by the average class size of 20 students. Extra sinks therefore, reduced the wait time significantly.

As a teaching environment, “Hospital rooms” were designed with two-way mirrors and A/V connectivity for teachers to observe and direct student learning. Control rooms were elevated for better viewing angles.

Some ICUs with a small footprint have these under-sink retractable toilets without having a full-blown restroom. Here it is not fully functional and plumbed in, but used to train students for patient transfers.

“We always joke about how one day somebody will actually use it and then realize it went nowhere,” laughs Landswehr.

Interior Design Considerations

WSU Old Town Case Study By WDM Architects 6
Wichita State University and Wichita Area Technical College’s brand colors were used to create a fresh palette when paired with complementary neutrals

Color Scheme

When the Old Town campus was conceived, it was to be a convenient co-location for students training for healthcare careers with classes at both Wichita State University and Wichita Area Technical College. Instinctively, Angi Womeldorff of WDM, created a color scheme inspired by the school colors of both institutions. WSU contributed the yellow and black, while WATC added the green and blue. The combination of the two schools colors created a fresh, complete palette when paired with complementary neutrals. The color scheme continues to be relevant even after WATC became known as WSU Tech and adopted WSU’s branding in 2018.


Original wood floors were preserved throughout the project, wherever possible. Where not possible, other flooring types appropriate for the space were installed over the wood floors. To keep the simulated hospital setting as true-to-life as possible, sheet vinyl was used in this area. The Physical Therapy Lab has a hybrid floor system made of 45% post-consumer recycled content. This system offers low VOC, noise-reducing, energy-absorbing, slip-resistant, durable and easy-to-clean features.

Measure of Success

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Project Overview


213 N. Mead, Wichita, KS 67202


54,000 s.f.


May 2016


July 2017

Team Involved:

Principal-in-Charge: Stan Landwehr, AIA Project Manager: Luke Scott, AIA Interior Designer: Angi Womeldorff, IIDA, NCIDQ Renderings: Jason Harlan Structural Engineering: Mauler Engineering MEP Engineering: Basis Consulting Engineers GC: Key Construction

Wichita State University Old Town Portfolio Project

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