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Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

Visually dramatic Welcome Center makes soaring first impression

...incredible potential to make a masterpiece.

The design for the Jim W. Henderson Administration and Welcome Center delivers an expressive, signature building to the architecturally nondescript campus of the world’s largest aviation and aerospace university. Described by TIME magazine as “The Harvard of the Sky,” Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) has a history dating back to the early days of aviation. The 185-acre campus in Daytona Beach, Florida, serves 6,000 students and dates to 1965. For the Welcome Center the university sought a facility to represent Embry-Riddle’s focus on emerging aeronautical sciences and introduce prospective students not familiar with Florida to campus life.



This project was the winning entrant in a design competition. What features of the design caused the client to select the GS&P proposal?

Leith Oatman: ERAU is an institution that considers its competition to be M.I.T. They have students and board members from all over the world. But the advanced nature of their mission isn’t reflected in what the campus looks like.

Brian Schulz: The administration knows their buildings aren’t up to par with some of their competition.

Leith: The Welcome Center is so important because it’s where ERAU makes its first impression on visitors, potential students and their parents, and donors.

Michael Compton: While ERAU has a residential campus in Prescott, Arizona, as well as a worldwide virtual university, Daytona Beach is their flagship campus. But the architectural language of this campus is military installation meets office park—bland stuff. The Welcome Center was the opportunity for a flagship building.

Jim Kolb: We gave drama to the building through the roof form. On an airplane, the wing shape that arcs on the top is an airfoil—it’s what produces aerodynamic pressure that gives lift. We pulled, stretched and rotated the roof plane to give it greater drama and an aeronautical reference, and to visually apply aerodynamic technology to the building. ERAU really liked that.

An aspect that seems to have been very important to the team, and to the site design, was to introduce Florida’s natural heritage to the campus. Why, and how did you do it?

Leith: Several of our staff members are native Floridians or have been here for many years, and we wanted to incorporate the real Florida into the campus, not the developer Florida that’s so often the perception.

Jim: A goal of the Welcome Center is to introduce people to what campus life will be like. We wanted to introduce them to this quality of Florida, this very lush environment that so few people know or understand. Ten miles north of the campus is the Tomoka, a black water river. It’s a beautiful place with huge overhanging oaks and lush hardwood hammock groves.

The site of the Welcome Center was a blank slate, pancake flat. A stream running by the site had been channelized, turned into a ditch, but it’s a natural free-flowing blue water stream that can support different aquatic life. Our plan restores the stream and creates a basin in which the building is reflected, yet it’s also a living aquatic ecosystem. Beyond the use of indigenous plant material within the littoral zones of the basin, shade trees reduce ambient summer temperatures and solar glare. So vibrant habitat becomes an integral design component.

What about LEED or other sustainable features of the building itself?

Michael: Not every client pursues LEED certification, but we strive to design according to the criteria and sustainable principles. This particular building incorporates daylighting, high efficiency mechanical and lighting systems, stormwater management, water conservation, materials with recycled content, and low VOC materials. And the construction processes will be managed to reduce and recycle construction waste.

Leith: Also, Florida has a building code that has some very stringent energy usage components. Just by meeting Florida code you’re getting very close to a LEED-certifiable project anyway.

How did you integrate the Welcome Center into the rest of the campus?

Jim: It’s a predominantly vehicular campus, with lots of space given to roadways, driveways and parking lots. Our design removes a vehicular loop to develop a pedestrian quadrangle linking the Welcome Center to the library, student center and classroom buildings.

The one existing strong pedestrian element they call the Legacy Walk. It’s a spine that runs north/south and connects the Welcome Center site to a series of buildings featured at the corner of the Daytona Beach International Airport, which is a very key element to the school and its curriculum. We elected to run Legacy Walk right through the Welcome Center, and that axis is used to help define the spatial and functional organization of the building.

How did you use the spatial/functional organization to implement the program for the center?

Leith: We weren’t really given a program. We received a floor plan, with square footage for the different functions ERAU wanted to include. We had to develop a program using the floor plan and exploit our experience of what we really knew had to be in an administration and welcome center.

Jim: Legacy Walk arrives at the oval point of the atrium, and we split the functions, large and small on either side. So the form is very much driven by the function.

Leith: On one side of the walk there’s a large space with movable walls for ultimate flexibility. It can be multipurpose, divided for simultaneous activities for a variety of groups. Without interior division the space can be used for large exhibitions—we actually show a jet—that could have kiosks or banners. And then it can be used for banquets and fundraisers. The two floors on the other side have the administrative and development offices.

Jim: It’s really a very simple building and the articulation of the parts is as clear as we can make them: gathering/exhibition space as a single large volume, and then a smaller-scaled, many-pieced environment for office functions. We took advantage of the opportunity to transform very simple requirements into a sculptural element.

Did you use different exterior cladding to articulate the two sides?

Brian: The side for large gatherings is poured-in-place concrete—we’re exposing all the joint work and snap ties. On the administrative side it’s a lot of metal panel because the engineering building across the street is all metal panel. Through material use we were able to effectively tie the welcome center to the campus.

What about arrival sequences? How did that determine the form?

Michael: This is a building with no back...

Jim: ...and the four faces are recognized distinctly through the scale of arrival.
From Clyde Morris, the main boulevard through the campus, the building is a sculptural icon you could pass at 40-miles-an-hour and still get a clear visual setting. We wanted a dramatic opening on that side. The entry on the reciprocal side is from the campus via Legacy Walk, an important axis looking to a terminal point at the other end of the campus.

Michael: The student drop-off is at human scale, the building planes are lowered, it’s more inviting. Similarly, the administrative entry is at human scale, but there’s a sense of compression and expansion.

Having the Legacy Walk go through the building seems to blur the distinction between inside and out. How did you exploit this aspect of the plan?

Michael: We always wanted the atrium to be as transparent as possible. To minimize visual obstruction we use a point-supported glazing system that virtually eliminates the mullions on the exterior.

Brian: It’s an engineering challenge because Florida is hurricane and tornado-prone. So we’re working with a specialty glass engineering company to spec the curtain wall to pass what’s called Florida Product Approval, which measures ability to withstand the impact of flying objects at certain velocities.

Ray York: We also had to work very closely with the structural engineer on the roof. The steel structure is slanted and at varying heights. Every point that a beam hit the concrete wall was at a different height. We had to provide the engineer with every single height of each beam where we preferred for it to abut the wall.

Michael: Another example is the administrative block, which is a huge 60-foot cantilever. This meant a constant dialogue with the structural engineer.
We pushed our consultants, as well as ourselves, to the limits of what we know how to build. And the dynamic of our collaborative team was reinforced by the fact that this is our first REVIT project.

What is REVIT?

Michael: It’s building information modeling (BIM) software. Imagine the complexity of the forms we’re proposing; it’s not simple post-beam relationships. REVIT is an extremely useful tool that enables us to produce real-time working drawings for the engineers and contractor rather than spending days drawing different sections.

How did the architecture and interior design interact in a building where the line between interior and exterior is fuzzy?

Jim: We worked hard to make the two elements relate to each other conspicuously. We literally brought exterior finishes inside. The concrete mass used to define the assembly space and the exterior metal panels both move inside.

Leith: To continue the transparency theme, we use a glass railing for the monumental stairs. The walls are simple drywall with paint. The drama comes from the architectural form and you don’t want to detract from that by adding decoration.

Sarah Rink: We selected finishes to complement the exterior materials. The flooring of atrium and stairs is white terrazzo with a few recycled glass bits. But because some materials, like the concrete, are pretty stark, we used a really dark, espresso-bean-colored wood to warm things up and create a dramatic juxtaposition with all the white.

Do you feel that your design took ERAU in a direction they’d never been before?

Leith: With any project you’re exposing and educating the client to get them to the desired end, and most times they don’t know how to get there. What’s especially rewarding about this project is that I think we’re exposing and educating the whole Daytona community.

There are big signs on the site with the renderings, and in town they’re referring to this building as the postcard for Daytona Beach. For an entire community to look at a structure that we’ve designed and refer to it as the postcard for their community, that’s very flattering.


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Project Info

  • Client: Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
  • Location: Daytona Beach, Fla., FL, USA
  • Market: Corporate + Urban Design
  • Services: Architecture, Interior Design
  • Team:
    • Brian J. Schulz, AIA, LEED AP Project professional
    • James R. Kolb, RA, LEED AP Project designer
    • Michael L. Compton, LEED AP BD+C Project coordinator
    • Ray York Project coordinator
    • Leith A. Oatman, IIDA, LEED AP Interior Designer
    • Sarah A. Rink, IIDA Interior Designer
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