K-State Donor Recognition Double Header

What’s better than designing a donor recognition system for your alma mater? Designing two, of course! Michael Courtney and his team at Michael Courtney Design (Seattle) did just that, developing one for the Berney Family Welcome Center and one for The College of Architecture, Planning & Design at Kansas State University.

Kansas State is a 155-year-old public research university with a 688-acre main campus in Manhattan, Kan. where over 22 thousand students are enrolled in 65 academic departments with programs ranging from agriculture to architecture. Alums have become governors, presidents of other universities, vice presidents of other countries, have places in halls of fame, some have won Emmys or Olympic gold and at least one—Michael Courtney—went on to start an experiential graphic design firm in Seattle.

Courtney, founder and principal of Michael Courtney Design, remembers his college experience fondly, “As a student at K-State, I appreciated the open attitude of my Professors about what ‘architecture and planning’ meant—they let me know it was okay to be interested in the non-building part of the built environment. This tolerance, if you will, shaped a career.” In his final year at K-State, he participated in an urban planning project for the city of Topeka, Kan. To show how the proposed changes would positively affect the city, the team of students even produced an animated film and presented it to the city council. For Courtney’s senior thesis project, he designed a wayfinding system for an urban bikeway. 

In 2015, a member of the Kansas State University Foundation was in Seattle, meeting with alums to talk about fundraising for Seaton Hall, a new building for the College of Architecture, Planning & Design. “At that meeting, I asked how they were going to recognize all the Seaton donors and offered to help,” recounts Courtney. “A year later, we were invited to meet with the Foundation team about the Berney Welcome Center and won that project first.”

The Seaton Hall project came to the MCD team almost a year later. After the completion of the Berney Family Welcome Center project, MCD was approached and selected to do the design work for the new facility’s donor recognition and endowed chair gallery. For Courtney, it was especially meaningful to be able to give back to K-State in multiple ways while participating in a new chapter in the college’s history. And it was fun, too. 


Berney Family Welcome Center

The Berney Family Welcome Center is located in a historic 160,000-square-foot former sports stadium, which has undergone a $20 million renovation. The new, multi-purpose space provides new and prospective student services like tours and financial aid in addition to a career center where departing students can practice real-world skills.

The K-State University Foundation brought MCD onto the project with already defined areas for donor recognition and 27 unchanging donor names identified, which helped to streamline the design process. The recognition elements are spread throughout the building, including a dimensional donor recognition wall in the Great Room, presentation theater, significant space and interview room naming, and plaza and building graphics on the building exterior.

The chosen site of the main donor wall is set beside three large interactive video walls. This location spurred discussions about whether the solution should be digital, but the intention reached was the creation of a quiet, permanent counterpart to the adjacent digital elements.

The client group also expressed a desire to communicate a warm “family attitude” and promote a culture of giving. The wall design features a sculptural rendition of a visual word cloud, with the scale of each name relative to the size of each contribution. The donor wall now serves as the centerpiece of a one-of-a-kind donor recognition program for the first-of-its-kind Berney Family Welcome Center at Kansas State University.

Challenges with fabrication limitations and material stability caused the MCD team to pivot from layered wooden letters to post-mounted and painted acrylic, which ultimately achieved the project’s visual goals in a more cohesive way. “The chosen color is close to the wood tones,” explains Fran Terry, senior designer. “And, depending on where you’re standing, they either seem to pop or melt into the color of the wall.”

The donor wall serves as the anchor to the system that spans across the Welcome Center from the colorful stairwells to the exterior lettering and the interview room nameplates. The building, system and services have become a point of pride for students, faculty, staff and, of course, the 27 benefactors who helped make it happen.

Project Name: Berney Family Welcome Center Donor Recognition
Client: Kansas State University Foundation
Location: Manhattan, Kan.
Open Date: September 2016
Experiential Graphic Design: Michael Courtney Design
Design Team: Michael Courtney (principal); Fran Terry (senior project manager, senior designer); Joe Tschida and Lizzy Skolmen (designers); Steve Reinisch, The Great Detail Guy (detailing)
Fabrication: Star Signs
Photos: David Mayes, Michael Courtney Design


Seaton Hall Wall of Thanks and Endowed Chair Gallery

Seaton Hall is home to APDesign at Kansas State, where 80,000-square-feet of existing space was renovated and 114,000-square-feet of new facilities include integrated design labs, collaborative and fabrication spaces as well as a 300-seat auditorium. The funds for the $75 million project were raised through a combination of state funding and 10 years of donations from supporting individuals, alumni and businesses.

K-State’s APDesign and Foundation needed to recognize endowments for and identify department chairs and visiting professors, in addition to acknowledging the generosity of donors to Seaton Hall. They brought on the MCD team to create a visual solution for both. “The team from the Dean’s office and the Foundation greeted us warmly with, ‘Welcome back. Now, let’s get to work,’” laughs Courtney.

The timeline for the design team’s work was an interesting challenge in that the bulk of the work was completed in a mere three days. “We met with the K-State team, toured the facilities, did a visioning session and sketched up ideas—Michael with pencils and me with the computer,” says Terry. “At the end of the day the group met again, we showed them what we had, they selected a direction—and we ran with it!” Courtney adds, “We were working with other designers, so they really understood what we were doing just using sketches and they were able to make decisions quickly.”

The new construction at Seaton Hall is a striking modern composition between two historic structures that house the architecture, planning and design programs. The building’s palette is comprised of glass and steel tones and shades of gray with accent colors only in furnishings to help hanging student work “pop.”

There was only one appropriate location for the donor recognition: a stone wall built in the 1800’s. The K-State team was concerned about potential damage caused by mounting the two-story frame to the limestone, but the MCD team specified minimal mountings to the wall.  The names of firms and individual donors are cut from natural-finish raw steel to match the natural authentic materials palette of the buildingand are mounted via a frame to the stone wall.

In the area just outside the Dean’s office is the Endowed Chair Gallery, where an expandable system recognizes the endowed chairs and visiting professors of the College. The system, also designed by MCD, shares a cohesive aesthetic with the donor wall while accommodating yearly shifts in content. Each of the three steel frames recognizes a chair donor and includes a digitally printed glass panel with the name of the current recipient secured with magnets. Darkened steel name strips below acknowledge past Chairs and space is left adjacent to the glass panel for the incoming Chair to be introduced ahead of arrival.

The K-State team oversaw fabrication and installation. Both clients and designers were happy with the outcome. “The Thank You Wall and Endowed Chair Gallery are going to be wonderful ways for us to recognize the many contributors to the renovation of Seaton Hall, both donors and members of the design team,” wrote Tim deNoble, dean of The College of Architecture, Design and Planning, to the MCD team. “You have successfully crafted a [recognition] strategy while engaging and honoring the palette of the building.” 

Project Name: Seaton Hall Wall of Thanks and Endowed Chair Gallery
Client: The College of Architecture, Planning & Design at Kansas State University and the Kansas State University Foundation
Location: Manhattan, Kan.
Open Date: November 2017
Experiential Graphic Design: Michael Courtney Design
Design Team: Michael Courtney (principal), Fran Terry (senior project manager, senior designer), Joe Tschida (designer); Keith Davis, KRD Design (visualization)
Architect: Ennead Architects (design architect), BNIM Architects (architect of record)
Fabrication: Star Signs
Photos: Michael Courtney Design


For recognition of their donation of design, a faculty room was named after the firm. “They called one day, with a proposal to name a room for Michael Courtney Design,” says Courtney. “It was very thoughtful of them.”

Inspired by this work? Be sure to check out the SEGD Webinar on March 8, when Michael Courtney will share his studio’s methodologies for developing and designing donor and story walls. Register now!