Vanderbilt University


Nashville, TN


Architecture, Experiential Design and Wayfinding, Interior Design, Planning

Located at the heart of Vanderbilt University’s historic campus, it’s been said that “all roads lead to Rand Hall.” Originally built in 1953, the building serves as the main dining facility for students. Rand Hall had endured multiple vertical and horizontal additions over the years, resulting in a confusing building that was hard to navigate. In an attempt to increase space, Rand Hall was connected to the adjacent Sarratt Hall. However, joining the two long-standing buildings didn’t resolve the chronic circulation issues, but instead added to the chaos. When the Vanderbilt Bookstore vacated Rand Hall, Vanderbilt called on Gresham Smith to develop a master plan and design the 75,000-square-foot renovation. In the end, the project team created a unified space that is distinctly Vanderbilt and serves as the center of student activity.

square-foot renovation
students participated
Vanderbilt student center seating

Developing Goals to Guide the Way

Through surveys and focus groups, Vanderbilt solicited input from almost 1,500 students. The students ultimately asked for a new student center, space for student services, food services and a campus convenience store.

Given the variety of spaces, our design team established fundamental goals to keep the project focused. Our key objectives included:

  • Correcting circulation issues;
  • Renovating and expanding the dining center;
  • Creating a student center, convenience store and much-needed space for student services;
  • And through it all, conveying a distinctly Vanderbilt University message.
Vanderbilt student center bistro

Capitalizing on a Window of Opportunity

Coordinating with Vanderbilt Campus Planning, Vanderbilt Campus Dining and the Office of the Dean of Students, our team developed an aggressive, phased design schedule that allowed students to leave for summer break and return to a brand new dining facility in the fall.

Over the summer we gutted the existing dining center, with the exception of the Gresham Smith-designed Chef James Bistro—a popular 2,000-square-foot, retail-style restaurant located in the same space.

Vanderbilt student center monumental stair

Keeping Traffic Flow in Mind

To address the space’s circulation issues, the design team utilized a circulation system typically reserved for a different type of traffic: cars. An intuitive corridor system helps students and visitors naturally stay on the path.

To help establish a clear path of travel, we installed tile flooring to define the corridor and a new monumental stairwell to access the upper floor. We also added additional windows to take advantage of campus views.

Vanderbilt student center meeting spaces

Unifying Separate Spaces

The second phase of the project included the new student center, the campus convenience store and space for student services. Since the upper floor consisted of two separate spaces that had no physical connection, we added an enclosed connecting corridor across the roof.

With Rand Hall, Sarratt Hall and the former campus bookstore finally unified, the first floor of the empty bookstore was transformed into the new student center, and its upper level was converted into a space for student services, as well as new meeting spaces and offices.