Flexibility in Learning Spaces

PBK’s Director of Higher Education, Cliff Whittingstall, AIA, LEED-AP BD+C, has been practicing architecture for education projects for more than 12 years. As director, Whittingstall is responsible for senior administrative oversight of all aspects of PBK’s higher education projects including staffing, scheduling, quality control, budgets and client relations. Most importantly, he’s tasked with providing the necessary planning resources and design expertise to create inspiring academic and social environments.

PBK recently completed the new classroom building and conference center at Collin College’s Preston Ridge Campus. “If I could use one word to describe the Preston Ridge project, it’s ‘flexibility,’” says Whittingstall. “Being able to accommodate a variety of functions at any given time for any given group of people — whether it be students, staff or community members — is a tremendous resource. I certainly look to continue such flexibility in future education projects completed by the firm.”

Located north of Highway 121 and east of state Highway 289 (Preston Road) in Frisco, Texas, the Preston Ridge Campus is set on a 100-plus-acre campus that offers a rich and varied environment featuring a grand library, a National Science Foundation Center, Regional Center for Convergence Technology and exceptional Culinary and Fine Arts programs.

In January 2012, the Preston Ridge location opened a new 75,000-square-foot classroom building (also designed by PBK) that houses the vice president /provost’s office, a 19,000-square-foot conference center with a capacity for 900, as well as a five-level parking garage.

Three primary components of the new classroom building and conference center make this project unique.

Entry Ellipse
The two-story volume ellipse at the classroom building’s main entry required a meticulous effort from the construction manager; the team was tasked with laying out the area for a proper fit of the curtain walls, glass handrails and stairwell. As well, the mason used a variety of Arriscraft blocks in different masonry coursing to achieve the aesthetic. Use of such durable, low-maintenance materials represents cost savings.

Pendant Fixtures

To create an inviting atmosphere for students, staff and community members, PBK Interiors introduced large pendant fixtures in the lobbies of both the classroom building and conference center. The fixtures required an immense amount of time for design, approval and production. Individual elements range in diameter between three- and six-feet and are between four- and 10-feet in length. Graphics representing Collin College’s Core Values are incorporated into the design as well.

Skyfold Doors
The Skyfold System in the conference center are what provide the meeting space flexibility Whittingstall so admires; two Skyfold doors, in a T-shape, allow for up to three events to be held at any given time. In addition, PBK’s Technology department designed a Crestron-based A/V system consisting of five large projection screens and five motorized projectors with the ability to be raised into and hidden in the gypsum ceiling. When necessary, motorized Mecho shades provide a “blackout” environment during presentations. The A/V system is interactive and enables the school to display multiple programs simultaneously in each of the three meeting spaces.

Function and Aesthetic Quality

The public spaces at both the conference center and classroom building have been praised by staff and students alike. 

Providing comfortable and inviting spaces is critical to the success of the building as a whole. In the classroom building, for example, multiple “student zones” offer students an area to study, socialize and relax. Thirty-three classrooms, four science labs and 41 new offices are also housed there.

The conference center lobby allows for event vendors to display products without interruption. In addition, wireless connections are available throughout both spaces with data ports at columns along the vendor areas.

And while a cohesive sense of connection to existing campus buildings was required, the school allowed PBK Design to introduce new elements. Silver Alpolic panels at the roof condition and extensive aluminum curtain walls are visually compatible with the existing standing seam roof color. Sun shading devices also surround the building’s exterior and provide a slightly more modern feel. 

Cliff Whittingstall, AIA, LEED-AP BD+C, is the director of higher education with PBK Architects in Houston, TX. Andrea Barrera manages client & public relations at PBK.