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Sense of Place

Texas Tech University's Student Union Building

University Business, Mar 2006

After multiple additions, the character of an original building can get lost. But what's old can be made new again.

FUNCTION: Campus center for groups, special uses, and everyday social interaction among students and staff at Texas Tech.

PROBLEM: The original building, circa 1953, was expanded over the years, going from 33,000 to 154,000 square feet. But it no longer looked like a single building. It felt like "you were walking through a museum with different wings representing different eras," says Tom Shubert, the recently retired managing director of Student Union and Auxiliaries. Even the snack bar appeared disjointed. It was expanded in 1976 but with a different type of ceiling and fixtures so that it seemed as if "you jumped a couple of decades as you moved from one area to the next," he adds. Student surveys called for more food options/seating, as well as updated decor.

SOLUTIONS: These student wishes guided planning for a fourth addition, which would incorporate the Spanish Renaissance style of other campus buildings. Pavilions, arcades, entry blocks, and pitched tile roofs were composed in the existing asymmetrical manner, with tile and other materials closely matching what was already in place, notes architect Malcolm Holzman. An elliptical wall curves through all four floors inside, and contemporary furniture invites lingering.

With nearly 100,000 new square feet, Shubert says, "We've done it so much bigger and better. It's kind of a Texas thing, I guess." The campus bookstore is now housed in the building, and the expanded snack bar looks like a planned space. The center's 60 new cubicles for student organizations house records that "used to live in somebody's closet," he explains (with more than 400 groups, a waiting list exists). "There's more interaction between and among the groups--co-sponsoring of events, learning from each other's mistakes." Visitors also seem impressed, Shubert says, adding that he notices "rubbernecking" during campus tours.

PROJECT COST: $45 million

TIMELINE: Latest addition opened in August 2003, then renovations began; full completion is scheduled for June

ARCHITECT: Holzman Moss Architecture, New York City --M.E.