VMDO Student Center Design

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Student Center Design


VMDO Architects


Designing Vibrant Centers of Campus Life


Developing Community


Shaping Places for Interaction Making an Impact on the Campus Designing for Connections

8 13 16



Providing for Flexibility and Ease of Use Crafting Lively Public Space for Events

20 25



Providing Freshness, Access & Variety Creating Dining for all Appetites & Venues Weaving the Vitality of Dining into the Life of the Building

30 35 36



Creating A Natural Place to Socialize Fostering Study, Discussion and Collaborative Learning Nurturing Culture and Exploration

40 45 48



Supporting Student Leaders Supplying Students with their Core Needs

52 55



Integrating & Revealing Sustainable Design Strategies Creating Meaningful Places

60 65

Featured Projects & Collaboration



VMDO Architects

As architects with 40 years of experience designing student centers for educational institutions, we bring value throughout the design and construction process. Our goal is to oversee the design and construction of a long-term asset for your campus. As your architect, we will:

Incorporate Constituent Input. Successfully designing for an institution means incorporating the input of a variety of stakeholders. We understand how to engage a complex network of constituents in a fluid and effective design process. Their involvement ensures that our buildings resonate with the needs and culture of your particular collegiate community. Attend to Critical Construction Details. Our continuous work on student centers means we are familiar not just with their spaces, but also with their construction. We understand what works and what doesn’t. We attend to the critical details so that your building will perform efficiently and effectively well into the future. Design for the Campus. We are committed to the long-term care and development of a campus. As stewards of a campus, we understand that our buildings will make an impact on a place for years to come. We work hard to ensure that our design will both reflect and support a thriving academic environment.




Designing Vibrant Centers for Campus A new student union can mark and embody a genuine turning point for a campus. It can synthesize the hopes and aspirations for an institution; it can serve as both a needed symbol of an ambitious future and a real sign of progress in defining a dynamic center of campus life. The result can bolster enrollment and student retention in that a single successful building project can stand for an institution’s commitment to student life and “put it on the map”. Most union projects strive to make a place, and a way, for faculty, staff, and students to continue the conversation started in the classroom – and to gather together as a community.



01 Developing Community Shaping Places for Interaction Making an Impact on the Campus Designing for Connections


Deve lop i ng Com m u n it y

Shaping Places for Interaction

A successful student union creates a vital, active, and useful place for student interaction and development. Best located in the very heart of the campus, the compelling passages and memorable spaces of the union building shape a common and unifying experience even though specific programs included in these buildings are purposefully mixed. The spaces of a student center should range from the intimate scale of an individual corner or a small meeting room to the community scale of a bustling dining hall. Weaving these spaces together requires both logic and art, creating comfortable relationships and an accommodating ease of use. Carefully organized spaces and programs lead naturally to inclusive participation in the larger web of activity within the building making the student center come alive.


“ As a practitioner and as a client, I have enjoyed working with greatly talented architectural firms. VMDO was one of the best firms in Virginia within a few months of its organization... Through the years, the firm has never lost sight of the importance of attracting, training, and retaining the brightest and the best. VMDO is today stronger than it has ever been, from top to bottom, and it is now, in my opinion, one of the very best firms in the country.” S am u e l A. And e rso n III, FA IA Fo rm e r A rc h it ec t U ni ve rs i ty o f Virginia


D ev elo p i n g Commu n i ty

Making an Impact on the Campus

A student union can make a significant and welcoming campus place – one that draws students in and encourages them to stay, to gather together, and to share experiences. With an important emphasis placed on the quality of the campus, union projects tend to define a recognizable “heart” or campus center that, in many ways, must embody the culture of the institution. This palpable need to establish an attractive, meaningful and memorable campus setting demands an approach that grows out of the distinctive character of the place, integrates the overall campus landscape, and produces a building that is a magnetic destination and a brilliant beacon.



A careful approach to providing essential service access ensures that the building sits comfortably in its prominent location.



Deve lop i ng Com m u n it y

Designing for Connections

By pulling in prominent campus pathways and by opening up to active, programmed outdoor spaces, a union building can reach out to its surroundings, provide a clear center of gravity for campus activities, and carry forward the unique identity and individual character of the institution. A careful approach to providing essential service access ensures that the building sits comfortably in its prominent location – right in the center of things – maintaining a seamless, pedestrian campus landscape while still gaining access to the loading docks and service drives needed to supply the building. A “see and be seen” factor permeates successful unions. Transparent opportunities for interaction can bring the best aspects of an institution to life and to light.




02 Meeting

Providing for Flexibility + Ease of Use Crafting Lively Public Space for Events


Me e t i ng

Providing for Flexibility + Ease of Use

With multiple groups using a meeting space throughout the day for a variety of purposes, flexibility is critical. Intended for frequent set up and rearrangement, meeting rooms can be equipped with the technology and furnishings to make transitions smooth and easy. Technology that is seamlessly integrated into a room makes media for formal and informal presentations accessible and intuitive. Easy access to food service allows these spaces to host popular luncheon meetings. Artfully managing service issues, in concert with a careful attention to furniture selection and configuration, will minimize staff time devoted to preparing and re-configuring spaces while maximizing their utility.



Intended for frequent set up and rearrangement, meeting rooms can be equipped with the technology and furnishings to make transitions smooth and easy.



M e e ti n g

Crafting Lively Public Space for Events

Designed for special occasions, celebrations, and receptions of all kinds, the quality and character of event space should reflect their significance. Given their occasional nature, these spaces can also become an important part of the daily life of a student center. Appropriate furnishings and dedicated furniture storage space can support the transition from daily to special event use. Thus, these rooms can be located in prominent building locations, providing a handsome space for students to gather, read, relax, and dine on a daily basis.


“ The opening of the Rollins Campus Center will transform the entire YHC experience. Students, faculty, and staff now have a common area to learn, meet, and gather to attend programs and develop community. The students … call the building the new ‘heart’ of the campus. In years to come, I have no doubt that it will serve as the core of the YHC community.”

Ang i S m i t h , J . D . V ice P re s id e n t of Stu de nt D eve lo p m e nt Yo u ng H arri s C o lle g e



03 Dining

Providing Freshness, Access + Variety Creating Dining for all Appetites + Venues Weaving the Vitality of Dining into the Life of the Building


Dini ng

Providing Freshness, Access + Variety

Dining facilities satisfy not only the basic need for food, but the deeper need for nourishment. A multi-venue servery offers students the range of choices that can personalize their dining experience, emphasizing a youthful approach that is appealing, fresh and healthy. Similarly, bringing the finishing of food preparation out of the kitchen and into the open servery gives students a real sense of the freshness of their food, and provides an opportunity for interaction with food service staff, who can become familiar faces and friendly members of the daily dining experience.



Dining facilities satisfy not only the basic need for food, but the deeper need for nourishment.



Di n i n g

Creating Dining for all Appetites + Venues

A variety of dining options enlivens the use of the union – from casual, ready-made “grab-and-go” to formal, specially prepared meals for events. Options that suit different personalities, eating needs, and payment options make all feel comfortable, welcome, and engaged in the life of the campus. Skillful interior design shapes dining environments that comfortably host a variety of personalities and experiences, allowing different needs at different times to find their place within the building. Color, texture, surface and furnishing all create the varied moods of dining throughout the building – from calm and private for reading and study in a quiet café to the energy and openness of enjoying a meal with a large group of friends in a spacious dining room.



Dini ng

Weaving the Vitality of Dining into the Life of the Building

Dining options are essential to a successful student center. Quality food draws people into the building. Sharing food sustains the special bond that can form as relationships begin in a collegiate setting. However, the thoughtful design and arrangement of dining spaces invites them to linger, to engage in conversation, and to become part of the activity. A sense of openness and visibility is key. A range of dining options that are combined and strategically overlapped with other union program can create a buzzing sense of vitality. These programs can transform the environment into a lively campus with round-theclock student presence, on-campus extracurricular and weekend activities-all building an educational and cultural community.




04 Gathering

Creating a Natural Place to Socialize Fostering Study, Discussion + Collaborative Learning Nurturing Culture + Exploration


G at he r i ng

Creating a Natural Place to Socialize

A sense of community goes a long way towards easing the transition from home to college. Partnered with the activities of a dynamic student life program, the gathering spaces of a campus center can support students in their social development through their college years. A rich mix of uses generates the necessary buzz to draw in students in the evenings and weekends. Vibrant program spaces gather students together into common activities and contribute to a sense of community and personal growth. The right types of spaces and thoughtful organization can establish the union as the unquestionable place to be and to meet up with friends.



A student Vibrant program union can spaces makegather a significant students and together welcoming campus place – one into draws that common students activities in and andencourages contributethem to a sense to stay, to gather together, of community and to share experiences. and personal At growth. it’s best, a union acts as a lantern + beacon of activity for the entire campus



G athe ri n g

Fostering Study, Discussion + Learning

Colleges and universities do their best to prepare students for the demands of the modern workplace, where collaborative work, on-the job training, and experiential learning are commonplace. Today’s students are frequently required to engage in group projects and collaborative work as part of their regular course of study. However, many campuses suffer from a lack of collaborative learning space to support this group work. Spaces within a student center can fill this need, supporting the academic development of its students and fostering a culture of learning. This allows students to experience learning as an on-going engagement – a long-term conversation – that extends beyond the walls of the classroom and into their daily lives.



Vibrant program spaces gather students together into common activities and contribute to a sense of community and personal growth.



G at he r i ng

Nurturing Culture + Exploration

A sign of vitality on campus is the performance and cultural exploration that it nourishes. Writing, preparing, and putting on a performance can be an impromptu event or a carefully orchestrated production. Creating a variety of venues for performance activities encourages students to explore their ideas, skills, and talents on a variety of levels for a variety of purposes. While casual outdoor amphitheaters invite an informal and improvisational quality of performance, spaces equipped with simple yet sophisticated sound and lighting systems encourage students to craft their performances for a larger, more formal audience. With these spaces available and accessible, students are encouraged to explore and share their talents as dancers, speakers, musicians, actors, and performers.




05 Serving

Supporting Student Leaders Supplying Students with Their Core Needs


Servi ng

Supporting Student Leaders

When major club and student organization space is included in student centers, on any day of the week, you will find your campus leaders in one building interacting with each other. These particular students are often recognized as the heart and soul of student life. Thus, colleges and universities are now devoting more thought to how student centers can support these students’ work. Supporting student leaders with dedicated space, technology, and resources improves the quality of broader student activities on campus and provides an effective training ground for the future leaders. Housing them in a common space with shared office resources creates opportunities for meaningful group interaction, effective collaboration, and the chance exposure to a diversity of interests and passions.





Se rv i n g

Supplying Students with Their Core Needs

Locating a campus store in a student center is ideal, especially in high traffic areas of the building. The sale of text books supports the academic mission of the institution, but are by no means the exclusive item sold in bookstores. The latest best-seller, apparel, music, convenience store items, and supplies add variety to the offerings of a campus bookstore. Well-lit spaces, inviting shelving, and spaces to pause and peruse encourage students and faculty to browse and find products to feed their intellect, express their school spirit, and support their daily lives on campus.


“ I think what sets the Commons apart is the fact that the designers seem to have really understood our campus and our students in a way that they interact and the kind of spaces that they would use. We do feel that we have a kind of unique student body and this building again really seems to be based on an understanding of our strengths and our own culture. That’s remarkable.” To m Co nt o s U ni ve rs i t y A rc h it ec t Was h i ng to n + Le e U niversit y



06 Sustaining

Integrating + Revealing Sustainable Design Strategies Creating Meaningful Places


Sust ai ni ng

Integrating + Revealing Sustainable Design Strategies Durability A student center is designed to attract students, faculty, staff and community members from the far reaches of a campus to enjoy its activities and resources. Thus, a successful student center is inherently exposed to a high volume of traffic and use. Careful attention to the durability of the materials and finishes of a student center building will go a long way towards saving maintenance investment over the life of the building. Cleanability A high volume of traffic also impacts the cleaning needs of a stvudent center building. Finishes chosen to minimize the collection of dirt and debris, to avoid fingerprints and smudging, and to coordinate with a staff’s cleaning equipment and methods will maximize efficiency in cleaning efforts. Indoor Air Quality Attention to cleanliness will have an important impact on the indoor air quality of a student center. Similarly, the thoughtful choice of finishes and the careful attention to a building’s mechanical and ventilation systems will improve occupant health and well-being. Education And Display Increasingly, college and university students are concerned about the human impact on the natural environment. Pursuing and displaying sustainable design efforts can improve building performance and educate concerned students about a college or university’s efforts towards responsible building practices. Building displays can explain and celebrate efforts addressing the fundamental concerns of sustainable student center design: Other Key Issues Water Conservation, Energy Conservation, Food Service - Energy and Waste Management, Recycling and Waste Management, Durability, Indoor Environmental Quality




Vibrant program spaces gather students together into common activities and contribute to a sense of community and personal growth.



Su stai n i n g

Creating Meaningful Places

A student union can be seen as a visible symbol of an institution’s future – but it is also in essence the actual “living room” of the campus and hearthstone of the community. Students gather together informally outside classes. They socialize and entertain each other. Commuter students have a place to dine, to relax and to share ideas with residential students. Professors engage students and one another over a cup of coffee. Groups meet in student leadership spaces, meeting rooms or outside on terraces and in amphitheaters. Fans gather to celebrate an important sports victory on the plaza. A union marks a crucial campus focal point and in a rich mix of uses, brings together the diverse body of students with the collegiate community for a complete integration of campus life.



Featured Projects + Collaboration The images found throughout this book feature VMDO designs for academic student centers and learning environments for the following institutions and projects: •

Averett University

George Mason University

Georgia Institute of Technology

Graduate Center for Jefferson Fellows

Liberty University

The Richard Stockton College Of New Jersey

Tidewater Community College / Virginia Community College System

The University Of Virginia’s College At Wise

Washington & Lee University

Young Harris College

VMDO Architects vmdo.com | 434.296.5684 200 E Market St Charlottesville, VA 22902 2000 Pennsylvania Ave, Suite 7000 Washington, DC 20006

For more information on Higher Education work please contact:

For more information on Student Center work please contact:

Joe Atkins, AIA, LEED AP BD+C atkins@vmdo.com

Joe Atkins, AIA, LEED AP BD+C atkins@vmdo.com

Michele Westrick, AIA, LEED AP BD+C westrick@vmdo.com

Kim Smith, AIA, LEED AP BD+C smith@vmdo.com

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