WashU Spaces: University architect James Kolker

To tour Kolker’s office, hover over the image. Photos: James Byard/Washington University


“So much pink.”

James Kolker, university architect and associate vice chancellor, admits it took some time to get used to Washington University in St. Louis’ signature stone.

'Transformative Visions: Washington University's East End, Then and Now'

What: Through archival photographs, architectural drawings and models, this exhibit examines the east end’s rich history of architectural planning and design. Co-curated by Kolker, the Kemper Art Museum and the Sam Fox School.

Where: Kemper Art Museum

When: Feb. 2-May 21

“Granite wasn’t part of my visual vocabulary before I came here,” said Kolker, who arrived in 2010. “But now it makes all of the sense in the world. The combination of the pink granite and the exposed aggregate concrete paving — that palette is so WashU.”

Kolker is one of the visionaries behind the east end transformation of the Danforth Campus, the largest construction project in university history. The $250 million project features three new academic buildings, an expansion of the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, a welcome center, a multiuse building with dining and offices, an underground parking garage and an expansive new park. The project broke ground in May, but Kolker has been at work on the east end for years.

“There is so much that I love about this project — the design, the materials, our partners,” Kolker said. “The east end manages to build on both the original vision of Cope and Stewardson and fulfill the needs of future generations of students and researchers.”

One of Kolker’s first assignments at Washington University was to help select an architect for Hillman Hall. He understood the building’s importance — not just to the students of the Brown School, but to the entire campus.

“It really set the stage for all of the east end,” Kolker said. “The quality of architecture, the interplay between glass and stone, the way it mediates between a historic building like Brookings, a neoclassical building like Givens — it really creates a context of the east end.”

The east end is scheduled for completion in 2019, but Kolker already is planning upgrades to older building on campus. His goal is to make campus buildings green, grand and, most importantly, functional. 

WashU Spaces showcases the offices, laboratories, studios and living quarters of the students, staff and faculty of Washington University in St. Louis.

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