From the Industrial Age to the Information Age

May 5, 2023

Purdue Polytechnic South Bend is reinventing education at a site well-suited for this transformation.

Question everything and dream big.

That’s what Purdue Polytechnic encourages by offering a unique, hands-on approach to education that integrates technical skills with critical thinking, problem-solving, and teamwork. It proclaims to transform school “from preparing students for the industrial age to preparing students for the information age” – providing the tools they need to create innovative solutions to real-world problems.  

Located inside the former Studebaker Automobile Factory Building 113, both the Purdue Polytechnic Institute (PPI) and the Purdue Polytechnic High School (PPHS) couldn’t have chosen a better location in South Bend, Indiana, for this educational transformation.

This photo, taken prior to recent renovations,showcases the stout columns and large windows that were a prevalent theme throughoutthe Studebaker campus.

The Studebaker brothers settled in South Bend in the mid-19th-century and officially formed the Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company in 1868, building wagons and carriages for Americans heading west. In 1902, the company transformed into an automobile manufacturer and soon became one of the leading innovators in the industry. However, the plant closed its doors in 1963 falling victim to the decline of the American auto industry – ultimately ending the production of Studebakers in the United States.

Constructed at the end of WWII, Building 113 housed the paint lab and sub-assembly lines for autobody parts. After the plant’s closure, it sat vacant alongside additional Studebaker buildings as a stark reminder of the City’s industrial heritage.

Until 2012.

Nearly 50 years after Building 113 closed, a new vision emerged – turning the historical Studebaker complex into a hub for modern-day innovation. Dubbed the Renaissance District, this mixed-use technology campus would include tenant space for business incubators, high-tech manufacturing, training, education, and more. As this vision became a reality, JPR was commissioned as the architect of record for the project, providing full design services for all development projects within the District.

And in 2017, after PPI selected a tenant space within the mixed-use campus, JPR got to work.

Utilizing state-of-the-art equipment, the Purdue Polytechnic Institute challenges its students to solve real-world problems.

With design standards already developed by the campus owner and JPR, all tenants had to adhere to specific guidelines. Because of this, JPR was faced with the challenge of achieving the modern-technology design that was required by the owner, while still meeting the unique needs of an industrial lab space for the vocational college. To solve this, custom electrical bus systems and closets were designed to house and conceal utilities and fabrication areas.

The design standards also required a transparent layout, which included unobstructed access to daylight. This meant that most walls within the building were installed as clear glass. Although this has been proven to enhance learning in educational environments, it was found to be a distraction for some classroom spaces. To effectively solve this issue, frosted film was added to the glass providing privacy while still allowing daylight to penetrate the space.

With open spaces for collaboration, the Purdue Polytechnic High School focuses on holistic education and hands-on learning.

Three years later, in 2020, JPR worked closely with PPHS to design their ideal space as they moved into the mezzanine directly above PPI. Not only did this downtown site offer students access to a hub of collaboration, but it was also advantageous as many of the students resided in the surrounding urban areas.

Serving grades 9-12, the space needed to be secured to ensure the safety of its students. Securing the tenant space while still maintaining access to the other tenant areas within the facility posed a challenge due to its location and the transparent quality of the partitions. Nonetheless, JPR managed to design secure entryways for both the building entrance and the PPHS tenant space.

A large gathering space was also needed to serve as a cafeteria. To do this, JPR designed an area that incorporated common corridors that could be partitioned off with movable wall panels during meals – while remaining open during class times.

Large windows, glass walls, and open areas encouraging collaboration are common throughout the Purdue Polytechnic spaces.

As it was difficult to predict how the programs would expand, both PPI and PPHS required flexibility within their tenant spaces to allow for anticipated growth and the need for additional programmed spaces. Several flexible classrooms were created within each program, and both the institute and high school can share space as needed. The fractal nature of the building and design standards allow for this flexibility to happen. And to date, PPI has seen one expansion phase with additional plans to expand again in the future and PPHS has already completed two expansions.

The open and collaborative approach that Purdue Polytechnic is known for is enhanced by the large windows and glass walls throughout the building. The modern design, cast against the historical architecture of the building, makes this space well-suited for a school that is reinventing education.

Surrounded by the building’s industrial legacy, students are engulfed in a rich history as they learn. Emerging, as leaders of the technological future.

JPR Staff: Djamel Charmat, AIA, NCARB – Director of Architecture; Jordan Maxson, PE – Civil Structural Engineer; Conley Phifer, CHMM – Environmental Department Manager

Services Provided: Architecture, Structural Engineering, Environmental Assessment

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