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Vanderbilt University Rand Hall

Vanderbilt University’s Rand Hall serves as the primary dining facility for one of the nation’s finest universities. Located at the heart of the historic campus, it’s been said that “all roads lead to Rand Hall,” with dense foot traffic converging from multiple directions and main sidewalks terminating at the building. Originally built in 1953, Rand Hall has endured multiple vertical and horizontal additions over the years, resulting in a confusing building that was notorious for its circulation issues. In 2000, Rand Hall was fully connected to the adjacent Sarratt Hall, which was built in 1974. However, joining the two long-standing buildings never resolved the chronic circulation issues and only added to the chaotic atmosphere.

When Vanderbilt Bookstore vacated Rand Hall, it became the catalyst for long-awaited change. Poised to expand into this valuable campus real estate, Vanderbilt selected GS&P to devise a master plan and execute the comprehensive 75,000-square-foot renovation.



To get the most out of the prime location, Vanderbilt solicited the input of almost 1,500 students via surveys and focus groups to determine what types of spaces would be best utilized at the center of campus. The students ultimately selected a new student center, space for student services, food services and a campus convenience store.

Given the all-encompassing nature of the renovation, the GS&P design team established fundamental goals in an effort to keep the project focused. These 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.

“We’ve worked with Vanderbilt Campus Dining for 15 years in the Rand Hall building,” says Patrick Gilbert, GS&P senior architect and principal-in-charge on the project. “Since then, we’ve had about 10 different projects in the same facility. Over the years, we realized that traffic patterns within the building needed to be streamlined. A large number of paths and sidewalks on campus led to Rand Hall, and in some cases major sidewalk systems actually put you through the building, so there was a lot of cross traffic.

“The perfect storm came together when Vanderbilt Campus Dining was able to combine efforts with the Sarratt Student Center and the two entities controlled enough of the real estate in the building to effect change. At the very same time, the campus bookstore vacated and moved to West End Avenue, basically leaving an empty department store in the center of the campus, which we referred to as ‘the corner of Main and Main.’”

A Window of Opportunity

Coordinating with Vanderbilt Campus Planning, Vanderbilt Campus Dining and the Office of the Dean of Students, the GS&P design team developed an aggressive, phased design schedule—starting with the renovation and expansion of the dining center—that would allow students to leave for summer break and return to a brand new dining facility in the fall.

“We had a window of opportunity to complete the first phase of construction and also allow Vanderbilt Campus Dining to get the building operational for the fall semester,” says Gilbert. “This is the primary dining center on campus, and it’s basically the location for all of the lunchtime traffic. Our goal was to have the dining servery and the main dining rooms completed between May 15 and August 1—and we achieved that.”

This first phase of the two-phase project involved gutting the existing dining center to the shell with the exception of the GS&P-designed Chef James Bistro—a 2,000-square-foot, retail-style restaurant located within the same space. Extremely popular with students, the look and feel of the award-winning bistro was to play a vital part in the expansion and renovation.

“It was very important that we add curves to the new servery to help with the overall flow,” explains GS&P interior designer Martha Fox. “So we took our cues from the Chef James Bistro and we connected the new servery to that.”

“We expressly created those curves so that when we removed a dish drop that was in the way, we could keep that curve going,” adds Gilbert. “It creates a sense of movement so it’s not a static space. We also had to play with the psychology of design to make you feel comfortable with a lot of people in a relatively small space. The curves help give the impression of more space.”

Accents such as wall tile along with flooring patterns also help pick up the transition between the Chef James Bistro and the new servery.

Detailed in yellows and greens to enhance the appearance of food, the new servery and dining area improves circulation and offers students a first-rate culinary experience in a warm and inviting setting that includes an exciting new dining concept for the facility—made-to-order pizza, baked fresh in Rand Lounge.

Going with the Flow

To remedy overarching circulation issues that had hampered traffic flow within Rand Hall for years, the design team devised a primary circulation system typically reserved for a different type of traffic.

“After the sidewalk system came to a dead end at the Rand building, you had nowhere else to go but through it,” explains Gilbert. “Traffic came in and filtered through the dining room and the servery and then back out again. There was an existing corridor, but it was not well defined. Our No. 1  priority was to fix internal circulation. So we used a planning system like you would for highways in the form of an intuitive ‘super highway’ corridor system that went through the building logically so you would naturally stay on the path. But there were a lot of protrusions along the way that we had to tear down.”

To establish a clear path of travel on the building’s main level, an existing vestibule and dish room were removed. Tile flooring was installed to define the corridor, an existing stairwell was removed and a new monumental stair was relocated to access the upper floor. To take advantage of campus views, additional windows were added in key areas.

“The space before was just not inviting,” says Gilbert. “A staircase in the servery was creating a lot of diagonal cut through, so we removed it to prohibit people from taking that route. In return, we created a corridor system that is very well defined, and there is literally a light at the end of the tunnel now. And people automatically want to head toward the light.”

Once in place, the super highway corridor system gave the design team a framework to build upon, allowing them to make individual developments along the way, such as the addition of two elongated stretches of café-height countertop, located just off the corridor, to further prevent cut through.

“It’s all about keeping people on the road,” says Gilbert. “We’re either literally keeping them on the road or we’re suggesting they stay on the road—and it works. People are using that main circulation path now. It acknowledges that you are connected to the campus at so many points. Every time you come in a major entrance you’re on the highway. Creating that corridor system fixed the circulation issues.”

Unifying Spaces

The second phase of the extensive project encompassed the new student center, the campus convenience store and space for student services. Since the upper floor consisted of two spaces that were separated by a roof with no physical connection between them, an enclosed connecting corridor was added across the roof. Additionally, a monumental stair was constructed between the two floors to further increase connectivity.

With Rand Hall, Sarratt Hall and the former campus bookstore unified, the first floor of the empty bookstore could be transformed into the new student center, and its upper level converted into a space for student services. This extreme makeover, however, did not come without a few surprises.

 “The old bookstore was like a windowless department store that was essentially its own box,” reflects Gilbert. “It was a separate, two-story structure. To get to the second floor you had to use an internal stair within the bookstore, but it didn’t connect to anything else. We knew the building had incurred multiple additions over the years, but we really didn’t know how many or exactly how they’d been added on.

“We discovered that the bookstore was originally just the one story. When the second floor was added, a complete roof was left in place and a new floor was placed on top of the roof, so there was a lot of stuff we had to cut through.

“We also learned that when the bookstore had been added onto multiple times the column grids didn’t align, and there were a plethora of columns within the space that was to become the new student center. No one realized this building had so many additions, but it was our job to figure out how to knit it all back together.”

To address this unexpected challenge, the design team came up with a unique zone concept that created a brand new purpose for the existing columns.

“We decided to work with the columns,” explains Gilbert, “and we ended up creating flexible seating around them in different zones, which worked extremely well.”

Designed for LEED certification, the new 7,000-square-foot student center includes a multipurpose performance area with tiered seating that operates as a food service and study area by day, and transforms into an entertainment venue at night. Multiple windows were added to the space to provide daylight and views of the surrounding campus. New mechanical and lighting systems were also added, along with new water-efficient restrooms.

“We created a student center that can be whatever the students need it to be,” says Gilbert. “This is the center of campus, and we wanted to provide the students with a place to ‘see and be seen.’ We also made it extremely flexible, so as student tastes and desires change, the space can flex with them.”

On the upper floor, new meeting spaces and offices designed to enhance the Vanderbilt student experience provide student services with the additional space they so desperately required.

 “Students can now come here to conduct meetings for their campus organizations,” says Gilbert. “They also have office space and a large, flexible area where they can work on creative projects. We completely closed off student services from the floor below so we didn’t have the noise of the dining center coming up into the space, but we still managed to make it feel light and bright like the floor below.”

Also light and airy and offering school supplies, snacks, assorted beverages and all things Vanderbilt, the new campus convenience store, located on the northeast corner of Rand Hall’s main level, strikes a distinct contrast between the former occupants of that space.

“Here you had a primary retail location on campus and it was a set of toilets and an enclosed stairwell,” says Gilbert. “Now, not only do we have light coming through the new stairwell we’ve created, but we have light that comes through the store’s large, exterior windows, so the hallway is nicely illuminated.”

Distinctly Vanderbilt

Throughout the newly renovated building, Vanderbilt University’s characteristic black and gold colors are aesthetically highlighted in wall coverings, custom carpets, dimensional lettering for signage, tile flooring and graphics. As a finishing touch, large-scale photographic images depicting life on campus were installed in strategic locations. The duotone wall graphics also act as visual cues that enhance wayfinding.

“It was very important, both for Campus Dining and the Sarratt Student Center as a client, to make sure the building conveyed that it was distinctly Vanderbilt,” says Fox. “And we took a lot of measures to make sure their true colors really showed.”

“It’s the heart of the campus so it had to live and breathe Vanderbilt University,” adds Gilbert. “The University is very good about photographing the campus, and they had a wonderful repertoire of images for us to choose from that were distinctively Vanderbilt University.

“We took those images and put them in as a sepia tone with a small amount of color and sprinkled them throughout the facility. We used images of the campus buildings. We used a large image of mortarboards at graduation that features the black and gold school colors. All around you are images that say, ‘this is what it’s all about.’”

A key stop on the tour route for prospective students and their parents, the newly renovated Rand Hall provides students and staff with a cohesive, comfortable and diverse space that clearly represents Vanderbilt University’s commitment to excellence and quality.

“This building needed to look and feel like Vanderbilt University, and I truly believe we’ve accomplished that,” says Gilbert. “Prior to the renovation they had a building that was simply not up to par with their competition. Today, Vanderbilt University has a building that allows them to compete at the level they need as an iconic university within the United States.”


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Project Info

  • Client: Vanderbilt University
  • Location: Nashville, TN, USA
  • Market: Corporate + Urban Design
  • Services: Architecture, Interior Design
  • Team:
    • Patrick Gilbert, AIA, LEED AP Principal-in-charge, Project manager
    • Kelly Cathey, AIA Project Professional
    • Bill Mays Project Coordinator
    • Jeffrey W. Kuhnhenn, AIA, LEED AP Project Designer
    • Jack E. Weber, IIDA, MCR, LEED AP Project Designer
    • Martha T. Fox, IIDA, NCIDQ, LEED AP Interior Designer
    • Mike Summers
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