(above) The architects exposed existing structural x-bracing in the main circulation corridor on the ground floor. (below and bottom) An area devoted to student resources is located just inside the main entrance to the new building, where the addition of glass-walled vestibule opens the interior to natural light.
the architects invigorated with color and soaring vertical banners. All of the four-story precast concrete walls that form the inside of this area and the central atrium are painted either purple or a vibrant golden yellow. The architects also connected this corridor to other areas of the complex by removing precast panels at the ground-floor level, in one case revealing structural x-bracing. To help draw students into the central atrium, amenities and student service spaces were located along this spine. This allows students to congregate inside the courtyard while waiting to meet an academic counselor or someone in registration. The flooring in most of the public areas is the original brick tile that has been refinished. Though the architects initially considered replacing it, the original now looks quite new and is a simple reminder of the building’s heritage. All the pendant lights used in the renovation were salvaged from the original building, and the architects carefully catalogued every storefront door for proper re-use. The largest part of the renovation was the classroom wing. HCC officials requested classrooms with no windows, so the three long corridors flanked by classrooms might have been bland and confusing. Yet here the halls are vibrant, and the colors and portals enhance the wayfinding. The “blue corridor,” for example, includes blue portals at the doors, subtle blue stripes in the carpet, and blue chairs in the classrooms. Classroom entries were grouped together to form a cube of color at each cluster, a striking and memorable composition. A playfully arranged pick-up-sticks pattern of overhead light strips also enhance the entry clusters and relieve the monotony of the basic ceiling layout. The central atrium was already a delightfully open space – replete with trees, benches, and fountains – where dappled sunshine filtered through skylights. The openness is still there, but the space is now updated with vivid paint, as well as new lighting, plants, and a mobile. As the core of the Alief campus, the atrium provides an attractive and pleasant environment. During design and construction, as additional deferred maintenance was discovered and increases in program were requested, Harrison Kornberg was forced to reduce the scope of some of the firm’s initial ideas. This is most clearly seen in those spaces surrounding the courtyard. For example, a planned glassed-in “jewel box” for student organizations was replaced with a new classroom, and café renovations–including improvements to an exterior space visible from the courtyard–were curtailed. College officials report that neighborhood residents and the more than 3,000 students who attend classes on the Alief campus are enjoying the new facility. HCC’s Dahse notes the positive comments about its collegial air, its openness, and the freshness and play of colors. “We hear that continually,” he says, adding his observation that the spacious multi-story sky lit atrium is a feature one is not likely to find in a typical community college environment. The architects and their client have succeeded in turning a once-drab corporate facility into a vibrant college campus. Indeed, this complex is a wonderful example of the promise and occasional serendipity of adaptive re-use. Kurt Neubek, FAIA, and John Clegg, AIA, practice with Page Southerland Page in Houston.
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