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Sense of Place

Georgia Gwinnett College Student Center

Getting ready for residential student population
University Business, Oct 2011
A main concourse that allows people walking through to see each other on different floors is one design element that encourages interaction. (Photos © 2011 Jonathan Hillyer / Atlanta)

Georgia Gwinnett College's student center was completed in time for the opening of its first residential housing.

  • FUNCTION: The 81,000-square-foot, multifunction facility, adjacent to a new library and learning center, combines dining, retail, office, and meeting space with areas for formal and informal events. The first floor has a 700-seat indoor/outdoor dining hall and recreation/game room. The top two floors house a Barnes & Noble bookstore and a venue space for up to 660 people. The building also includes offices and meeting rooms, a 103-inch interactive media wall, group study lounges, a mail room, and a copy center.
  • CHALLENGES: A public four-year college, GGC opened its doors as a commuter campus in fall of 2006 with 118 students. Enrollment grew to what is now 8,000 students. Adam Sterritt, dean of students for student life, says incorporating a residential component was always the plan. "We needed a facility that would be open seven days a week to support the students who are here at 10 at night and here on Saturday morning," Sterritt says, adding that commuter students were eating lunch in their cars and the campus needed to provide a place for them to gather between classes, as well.

Based on the scheduled August 2010 completion of the first residence halls, officials had a tight 18-month schedule to complete the student center. Discussions with architects at Lord, Aeck & Sargent, which began in January of 2009, included the challenge of construction that had already begun on the library and learning center. "We are a very small campus and we don't have a facilities staff of 20 that could be in different construction and planning meetings," Sterritt says. The time frame allowed no room for error, according to Ken Higa, a principal with Lord, Aeck & Sargent. Throughout the project,  he adds, the team took time to feature, assess, and anticipate the needs of future students.

  • SOLUTION: Students voted to begin paying a mandatory fee of $100 per semester to repay the debt service for the program, and the GGC Foundation sold bonds to come up with additional funds. Students also had a hand in helping to select "the furniture, the carpet, and what type of spaces they wanted," Sterritt says. "The design reflects the input of the students, which is important to us." Higa says that once the building opened, a sense of community became immediately obvious upon entering it. GGC has always had the philosophy of combining academics with social learning, and the student center is a place for informal learning and group study, Higa notes. The atrium and main concourse were designed to give students opportunities to see and be seen.

The facility was planned with room to grow in mind. "We knew the building would [someday] ... be expanded, so we integrated the ability for change into the design," Higa says. "We didn't know exactly what would be needed in 10 years."

  • COST: $24 million
  • TIMELINE: First floor and mail room completed August 2010; other floors completed January 2011
  • ARCHITECT: Lord, Aeck & Sargent of Atlanta

Breaking Ground: Other Places

  • CONSTRUCTION OF A CAMPUS GATEWAY AT TOWSON UNIVERSITY (MD.): The university will complete this $11 million project to give visitors a sense of arrival and a point of entry to the campus. To be marked by brick pillars and an open plaza, the gateway is expected to be complete in the winter of 2012. The university's Architecture, Engineering and Construction department is overseeing the project.
  • CONSTRUCTION OF A NEW HOSPITAL PAVILION AT UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO (ILL.): This 10-story adult hospital will be focused on cancer, advanced surgery, high-tech imaging, neurosciences, and gastrointestinal procedures. Architectural firms Rafael Viñoly Architects (Design) and Cannon Design (Health Care Planning) created a design with 240 patient rooms and space for 28 operating rooms. Completion is expected in the spring of 2012.