Facilities (Campus Spaces)

Transforming Traditional Campus Buildings

Having a profound architectural legacy on campus does not preclude significant efforts to revitalize interiors. In fact, vision, planning, and vigilance can leverage important interiors to create new settings and foster leading-edge educational experiences for students today and tomorrow.

Take for example recent, extensive renovations on the divergent campuses of Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) in Chicago and The Ohio State University in Columbus. The strategy at each institution exemplifies how campuses with different architectural legacies are keeping their interiors fresh while celebrating a rich architectural inheritance.

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PHOTO © THE OHIO STATE UNIVERSITY

Renovation projects—including interiors—have unfolded in recent years and continue today at IIT, a campus known for the Modernist style of its buildings. Among the renovated buildings: the John T. Rettaliata Engineering Center, the Robert A. Pritzker Science Center, and S.R. Crown Hall. The guiding theme is student collaboration, reports IIT’s Tom Henehan, senior project manager.

Modern Interiors

In terms of Rettaliata’s interior work, its lobby and two flanking classrooms have been refurbished to recapture a sleek, fresh look, with pristine finishes from ceiling to terrazzo floor. The classrooms, geared toward that theme of collaboration, are now equipped with whiteboards and seats on wheels for group work. That’s just part of the story.

There is a direct architectural lineage between the Engineering Center’s original design and its renovation: the original architect, Myron Goldsmith of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, was a disciple of Mies van der Rohe, the legendary Modernist architect who designed the IIT campus and many of its buildings, and the designer of the renovation is a grandson of Mies, Dirk Lohan of Lohan Anderson.

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PHOTO © THE OHIO STATE UNIVERSITY

Another major piece of the $10-million renovation at Rettaliata is an atrium created out of a stairwell and some classroom space, Henehan explains. The atrium is now a high, airy, and open location for students to convene, work, or pause.

There are spaces furnished and equipped for collaboration on the atrium’s two floors. As IIT describes it, “The collaboration spaces on the first floor are open and have seats and workstations that can be configured into different formations fitting the needs of any group, large or small.” Upstairs, there are soft stools and other furniture, with partitions to define study areas. The first floor has a large glass writing wall; both floors have interactive video screens to display student presentations and projects; and the entire space is under a skylight.

Nearby, another iconic campus building, the 124,000-square-foot Robert A. Pritzker Science Center, also was renovated in a $5.5-million project. LCM Architects describes the approach to its work at Pritzker as creating “a visually appealing, energizing environment that support’s ITT’s reputation for innovation and creative science.”

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PHOTO © SCOTT BERMAN

The changes included adding an exterior plaza, rolling whiteboards on multiple walls, and a west lobby. The lobby has been renovated and furnished with straightforward yet refined tables with plenty of electrical outlets, hard chairs, and pops of vivid red in the form of soft chairs, all above dark-toned, tasteful carpet tile. A glass curtain wall bathes the lobby with sunlight.

Changes to Pritzker’s auditorium include a careful color scheme in upholstered seating, acoustic ceiling clouds, and a logical decorative touch: wood wall panels bearing DNA coding patterns, apropos given that Life Science courses are taught in the building.

Different Challenges

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PHOTO © SCOTT BERMAN

A different situation and set of challenges faced decision makers at The Ohio State University (OSU), confronted with the need to renovate the interiors of three stately buildings dating from the early 1900s on the Columbus campus: Pomerene and Oxley Halls and Thompson Library. Ruth Miller, director of projects in OSU’s Facilities Operations and Development Design and Construction office, recently shared insights about the renovations, all of which, she explains, were designed by Acock Associates Architects.

At Pomerene, where academic programs and functions have changed, the most challenging interior work in the extensive renovation of the building entailed, as Miller explains:

  • “Removing a central part of the building to create the three-story atrium,” which Miller described in part as a key to the building’s internal organization and circulation.
  • Taking out an “old swimming pool and replacing it with a threestory addition…that respects the original architecture.” Four large classrooms now occupy the renovated space.
  • “Preserving beautiful preexisting finishes. This included interior wood wall panels and decorative plaster ceilings in the former ballroom, embossed plaster ceilings in the corridors, and wood flooring in (an) old gymnasium space” that now serves as lab space, meeting, lounge and study areas, and a coffee bar.
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PHOTO © SCOTT BERMAN

At Oxley Hall, originally built to serve as the university’s first women’s dormitory, renovations have created a wide range of facilities for OSU’s Department of Linguistics. Miller explains, “the most challenging thing was getting new HVAC, electrical, and IT cabling to all of the parts of the building with pretty low existing ceiling heights. This was accomplished by creating soffits just inside the individual office areas and on the sides of the central corridors to minimize the impact to the feel of the spaces.”

The library’s renovation, Miller points out, “blended building styles and materials from several additions” over the decades, an approach that transformed the building “from a dark and segmented, old traditional library into a vibrant, transparent, and open destination...The existing skin of the seven stories of book stacks was replaced with glass that opens into the atrium, full of daylight provided by large skylights. The design also included a ‘public street’ through the building that connects to The Oval,” the university’s central, 11-acre green space.

Miller explains that stakeholders were gratified that in each interior, they were able to preserve grand interior finishes and features “that included fireplaces, wood doors and cabinetry, wood floors, wood paneling, and highly decorative plaster ceilings. The end result blends very nicely with the newer finishes.” In addition to modern furnishings, art comprises another blend and celebration of old and new: a bright, multicolored wall drawing by Sol LeWitt has been installed in Pomerene’s atrium as a signature feature, among others, of the new interior.

Changes to Icons

Finally, back in Chicago, another change to an important building on the IIT campus, Mies’ famous S.R. Crown Hall, is telling. The building, which underwent extensive renovation in 2005, contains classrooms, a basement library, studios, and a great open event space on its main floor. More recently, the university, among other changes, added a small block of offices to Crown, a national historic landmark and an icon of architectural Modernism. The approach to create the new offices was thoughtful: the offices, not quite ceiling height, stand on a deep-cleaned, original, and high-gloss terrazzo floor, and are contained within a perimeter of glass and metal, thus referring to the building that houses it.

The glass and metal form is distinctive, functional, and sensitive to its surroundings and the institution’s needs and goals, as were the extensive interior projects at OSU.

Educational interiors’ forms and features may appear in countless varieties, but as the OSU and ITT projects show, that approach seems a good one indeed for campus interiors in general.

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PHOTO © SCOTT BERMAN