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Sense of Place

University of Baltimore (Md.) Student Center.

University Business, Jul 2006

One reason this urban, land-locked school's identiTy wasn't fully understood was its lack of a central meeting place. As part of a campus rebranding effort, The University of Baltimore Student Center building has become a "literal and figurative 'face' of UB," says spokesman Chris Hart.

FUNCTION: A welcoming spot to study and socialize

CHALLENGES: UB's student mix is atypical; its 4,900 students include more than 2,000 undergrads, nearly all of whom are juniors and seniors who have transferred there. One major piece of the rebranding will be a 2007 shift to four-year undergraduate institution status, with enrollment growth expected. Yet even current students, many of them attending night classes, "had no significant, dedicated space for students to gather," Hart explains, adding that neighborhood pubs had become popular meeting spots and students would be seen studying in their cars.

SOLUTIONS: Large spaces on the new center's main floor encourage conversation; other floors include large group meeting rooms, performance space, and more intimate spots for quiet study or just relaxation. "Every now and then you can catch a student napping in a sunny spot in the atrium," Hart observes. "What says 'college life' better than that?" He says the center is like a living room that was always there.

Yet it's an open living room. Large windows throughout offer views of the city, and because of the center's location on a busy, popular street, its presence helps fulfill UB's tradition of urban engagement and outreach. With retail portions of the building, including the caf? and bookstore, open to the public and events like free family films, the building has helped UB in "establishing a welcoming space for local residents. It lets them know that UB is a two-way street," Hart says. "The center has helped raise our profile. In an important way, it has made us whole."

PROJECT COST: $20.2 million

COMPLETED: February 2006

ARCHITECT: Murphy & Dittenhafer, Baltimore -M.E.