Built in the 1930’s art moderne style, the redevelopment of an original downtown department store, the Knapp’s Centre renovation included a complete reinvention of the exterior envelope to match the original 1930’s design. Experimental materials and techniques of the art moderne style have caused some buildings to become obsolete or viewed “beyond repair.” This innovative solution saved an historic building creating a new exterior envelope to meet modern day design criteria while maintaining the historic qualities of the 1930’s art moderne movement.
The Knapp’s Centre is a historic six story Art Moderne building in Lansing Michigan. The building was designed by Orlie Munson of the Bowd-Munson Company. The art moderne elements on the exterior included a metal panel system with strong horizontal banding and ribbon glass block windows. The metal panel system was constructed of several sections of pre-formed concrete, faced with a metal enamel panel. This innovative system was called a “Maul Macotta” panel which was a copyrighted product of the Maul Macotta Company. The horizontal banding of windows was comprised of prismatic glass block. The horizontality of the glass block windows with the Macotta panels are then interrupted by vertical blue macotta pylons, that mark the four building entrances.
The building was designed to house the main department store of the Lansing based JW Knapp Company. The building received great praise when opened for it moderne style, and today is considered one of the finest intact examples of Art Moderne commercial buildings in the Midwest. The building eventually closed as a department store and opened later as a converted office building. The building has been vacant since 2003.
Incorporating historic tax credits and meeting the Secretary of Interior Standards for Historic Preservation, the building was redeveloped and opened in 2014 as mixed-use, incorporating ground floor retail, three floors of office and top two floors as residential. The major challenges to the redevelopment included restoration of the exterior envelope including the historic Mocatta panels and the prismatic glass block.
Thorough understanding of the building envelope became critical to the viability of the project. Through dissecting the historic construction, an understanding of how the panels were constructed and installed along with the modifications over the coming years, led to a conclusion as to why the panels were failing. That understanding informed the design of a replacement system that was able to replicate the exact art moderne characteristics of the Mocatta panel.
The historic prismatic glass block was used for four levels of ribbon windows along the two main elevations. This style of glass block projected light into the showrooms while limiting views out. Similar to the metal panels, matching the appearance from the exterior was critical. Due to the differences in the historic and modern construction techniques of the glass block, special provisions need to be made to the replacement glass block to mimic the historic construction techniques.
Overall, the redevelopment is a huge success story in preserving the historic qualities of the 1930’s Art Moderne style, while modernizing the building to meet the necessary requirements of the twenty-first century.