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Sense of Place

Old Dominion University (Va.) House of Blue

University Business, Sep 2006

Is it a food court or is it a nightclub? Some creative renovations have made this space both.

FUNCTION: By day, the food court area of Old Dominion University's Webb Center offers franchise restaurants and room for studying and socializing. At night, students hit the same hot spot when they want a cool place to hang out.

CHALLENGES: In its evolution from mainly a commuter school to more of a residential campus in urban Norfolk, ODU officials saw potential in their food court, which catered to a lunch crowd but became a "ghost town at night," explains Don Runyon, assistant vice president for Auxiliary Services. The area would shut down, with aluminum gates hiding the food services counters. Students wanted more. They needed an evening destination on campus. The idea to transform the food court into a nighttime venue, however, was linked to a small budget and six-month timeline.

SOLUTION: Since significant changes weren't possible, the project's design team worked to make the food court space look more upscale, with contemporary fabrics and finishes as well as tall tables. It was crucial that "the food court did not look like a nightclub and that the nightclub did not look like a food court," notes the project's design principal, architect Stephen C. Wright. Technology aids the evening transformation: Steel security grates close the food stations and are shrouded with a translucent roller shade and color-changing LED lighting; a DJ booth and a sound system create an energizing atmosphere.

"It really looks like a nightclub and feels like a nightclub after dark," Runyon says, adding that beer and wine are served to students who are of age. About 300 people can use the space, and even early on "we literally had to end up putting security [guards] at the doors." The space has also become popular for student events like poetry slams and movie showings, departmental receptions, and alumni gatherings.

Last school year, House of Blue held four main events per semester. This year, Runyon says it will be open more often. A cover charge for certain events may be a possibility, Runyon says. And since evening dining sales have not been great, officials will look at ways to improve them. In the meantime, the food court area has become a must-stop place on campus tours, and House of Blue has made it to the pages of campus publications and brochures.

RENOVATION COST: Just over $970,000

COMPLETED: October 2005

ARCHITECT: Hanbury Evans Wright Vlattas + Company -M.E.