An interconnected ‘Student Success District’ designed by The Miller Hull Partnership in association with Poster Mirto McDonald has recently been completed at the University of Arizona’s Tucson Campus.
The complex project redefines the Main Library and the Bear Down Gymnasium, reorients the entry to the Albert B. Weaver Science-Engineering Library, and merges them with a new 55,000 SF Center for Academic Success to create an interconnected Student Success District. Connections between new and existing structures activate outdoor spaces and provide areas for student engagement.
Early involvement with a diverse body of stakeholders and user groups was critical for understanding priorities and possibilities for the District and developing a clear path to the end goal of the multi-phased project. Over a 90-day Programming Phase, the design-build team met with stakeholder groups to review existing conditions, understand departmental goals and requirements, and think opportunistically about the future. The established goals pushed the program to integrate space within departments to break the silos that previously existed in the decentralized locations across campus. Ideas of shared use and shared governance between departments allowed for efficient program development, with the sum of the district resources providing much more than any individual department could allocate alone.
Soliciting student input throughout the process provided deep insight into what was most valued: technology, variety of spaces, and power and internet access everywhere. In renovating the three existing buildings, the design team developed a concept based on creating connections and increasing porosity. Student input encouraged the team to embrace the goal of creating “a place for every student”—diverse, flexible, technology-rich spaces—by introducing both indoor and outdoor shared study and lounge areas in a student-centric, unifying character. The District provides room for tutoring, active learning, hands-on fabrication and research, and a holistic health and fitness area—all while remaining flexible to allow for shifts in functionality as trends and pedagogies change in coming years.
Miller Hull identified design and construction solutions to optimize the broad and varied program within the available physical and fiscal resources. The co-location of student support services provides convenient career counseling and guidance, financial skill-building, and mental health resources to students in a central campus location and adjacent to other expanded academic resources in the modernized libraries. This allows full-spectrum support for all students when and where they are most able to be accessed—while on campus between classes.
Throughout the District, meeting rooms and classrooms are located in ways that allow the use of the spaces to be maximized by multiple departments. Large classrooms are designed for flexibility of teaching styles and future use and academic excellence is supported through enhanced access to hands-on learning, deep technological engagement, and spaces for collaboration. Bringing together programs into a centralized location allows for greater synergies between various student support services, providing students with a greater sense of clarity about the range of services available.
Large active lounges, multi-media areas, maker spaces, a tech sandbox, and a diverse range of study rooms offer students the ability to become fluent in a variety of technology. With student mobility increasingly moving learning outside of the traditional classroom, the design team found opportunities to take advantage of informal areas and circulation eddies for student study, interaction, and collaboration. The District is strengthened through the addition of comfortable study and social gathering spaces with the inclusion of sun shading and access to Wi-Fi and power.
Balancing Modernization with Historical Context
Establishing new connections on an existing campus can be challenging. Spanning 95 years of history, the Main Library, the Science-Engineering Library, and the Bear Down Gymnasium each had differing uses, architectural styles, grade connections, and floor-to-floor heights. Understanding the importance of unifying the new District, the design solution was centered on student circulation and hardscape and landscape treatments to create occupiable space between buildings and continuity at building entries. As new entries were cut into the existing buildings, the consistent use of a thin steel plate portal was developed to “slice” through the facades and establish a language for the new circulation patterns. These connections and consistent development of spaces between structures became a common thread, stitching the district together and unifying the student experience.
The Student Success District strengthens connections and increases engagement for students at the University of Arizona. The holistic approach and flexible design will allow for shifts in trends and functionality, benefiting students for years to come.
Size (total): 262,000 SF
Location: Tucson, Arizona
Project Cost: US $53.8 million
Client: The University of Arizona
Prime Architect & FFE: The Miller Hull Partnership, LLP
Consulting Architect: Poster Mirto McDonald
Environmental Graphics and Wayfinding: Mayer Reed