Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) has been a leader in aviation education for close to 50 years. Today, ERAU is the oldest, largest and most respected aviation school in the world, with nearly 32,000 full-time students enrolled worldwide. More than 5,100 of those students are served by the university’s flagship campus in Daytona Beach, Florida, which encompasses 185 acres adjacent to the Daytona Beach International Airport.
In 2011, GS&P won an invitation-only competition to design a building that would house both staff offices and a student welcome center on the former site of Spruance Hall, an administrative building devastated by the Christmas Day tornado of 2006. ERAU wanted the new facility to better reflect the school’s leading status in aviation and aerospace education, and to serve as a striking introduction to their main campus.
“The project started out some time ago as a 12,000-square-foot student welcome center, but the university president wanted to combine the welcome center with the new administration building,” says GS&P senior vice president and project manager Leith Oatman. “The client’s vision was to create a space that would not only serve multiple functions, but also make a dramatic and memorable impression on prospective students, alumni and donors.”
Slated to stand prominently at the primary entrance to the campus, the new 30,000-square-foot facility—to be named the Jim W. Henderson Administration and Welcome Center—would serve as ERAU’s worldwide headquarters, and house the university’s development and administration staff, as well as conference space, a welcome center and an exhibition hall.
“Because of its prominent location, we knew this facility would come to mind whenever one thought of Embry-Riddle,” says Oatman. “So we set out to design an iconic building that would become the university’s defining image.”
A Contemporary Vernacular
For ERAU’s signature building, GS&P applied sweeping curves, foils and expansive spaces to capture the spirit of flying. The construction features timeless, durable materials both inside and out, including poured-in-place concrete, exposed form ties, white metal panels and reflective glass.
“The client clearly wanted a statement piece of architecture at the entryway that established a progressive feel for the campus,” says Oatman.
The building provides unique views to various populations—prospects, visitors, current students and staff—depending on the angle of approach, all while maintaining a consistent sensory experience. The east facade presents the signature view from Clyde Morris Boulevard into the university’s main entrance. The west elevation welcomes students and other pedestrians coming up the Legacy Walk—a wide promenade that runs through the heart of campus to ERAU’s flight line at Daytona Beach International Airport.
“Embry-Riddle has been developing the Legacy Walk for a while now,” says senior architect and design principal Jim Kolb. “Different points along the walk commemorate the history of flight, and its axis runs right to the entry door of the facility. Rather than have the Legacy Walk stop outside the entrance, we allowed it to extend visually into the building. The open space in the atrium is the terminating nodal point while the visual axis is preserved.”
Despite the visual simplicity of GS&P’s design, the team faced a number of structural complexities during the project’s execution phase.
“We had multiple building forms connected to the glass curtain wall system, which is a fragile component,” explains Kolb. “We also knew there would be differential movement between parts, which required a lot of analysis and consideration to resolve.Some of that resolution meant more traditional or conservative systems to ensure we stayed within the budget.”
GS&P creatively incorporated aeronautical references in both the exterior and interior designs. On the outside, the roof plane was sculpted and arced into a derivative of an airplane wing. On the inside, the white terrazzo floor integrated a pattern that reflected computational fluid dynamics used in engineering.
“We sought something that wasn’t necessarily a duplication of a logo or seal, but more related to what the school does,” says Kolb. “They are leading researchers on ramjet propulsion, for example. So we looked at a series of designs and ended up with a symbol—a vortex representative of different fluid dynamics. Because we kept the design simple, the result was elegant and uncomplicated; an unexpected delight.”
Around the outside of the structure, water basins on the east and west sides reflect morning and afternoon sunlight, which animates the building forms. The landscape design evolved to align with client preferences, including a palette of date palms, magnolias and flowering rose bushes.
Prior to the construction of the new administration and welcome center, ERAU had completed a number of new buildings at its Daytona Beach and Prescott campuses, and wished to continue that contemporary design vocabulary with the new facility.
“The university wanted to advance its goal to present a campus that communicated a progressive institution,” says Oatman. “And this iconic signature building at the entrance to the campus achieves just that.”
Form and Function
While the client’s proposed floor plan estimated the required components for the building, it lacked a deeper grasp of proper spatial dynamics. However, this presented the design team with the perfect opportunity to draw upon years of combined experience when it came to architectural space programming.
“We received a suggested floor plan as part of a package from the facilities group which encompassed the square footage for the different functions that ERAU wanted to include,” says Oatman. “We developed the program for the building using that floor plan, and applied our extensive experience and understanding of how office space best functions in terms of the shape, size and adjacencies of the program requirements.”
The south side of the building houses the university’s administrative offices. On the first floor are the offices for development staff, and a boardroom for board members, donors and visiting dignitaries. Administrative staff offices and the presidential suite are situated on the second floor. The layout allows school leaders to travel to and from offices without directly traversing the public gathering area. The university president has a private elevator that allows direct access to and from the boardroom on the first floor to further ensure privacy.
The north side of the building features a multipurpose room that can accommodate large assemblies or formal events as well as small meetings or classes. The space comfortably seats up to 265 people, and when the operable wall between the meeting space and the atrium rolls away, the extended area can accommodate up to 500 guests.
“A number of formal events have already taken place in the new space, including an annual military ball,” says Oatman. “The school previously rented hotel ballrooms for such occasions, but the beauty of the room well accommodates the clarity of design, which provides an elegant setting for these events.”
Between the two sections of the building is the atrium—an expansive, glazed structure with an open vista from east to west that creates an atmosphere of open air while being protected from Florida’s harsh temperatures. Since the facility’s opening, the atrium has provided a central meeting point for a variety of student gatherings and other campus events.
“Naturally, the building would have included a lobby, but we created a space that was resultant from other areas,” says Kolb. “Rather than contriving a space, the atrium evolved from the rest of the architecture. The result is an area that’s better integrated into the overall design.”
Although LEED certification wasn’t required for the project, the design team sought the most sustainable approaches for the building, including an open atrium that’s well-lit by natural light during the day. Terraces that manage solar gain at the west and east ends of the administrative wing (while providing outdoor access for staff), were yet another energy-efficient feature.
“We used solar sunscreens on the south and west facades to shade the large expanses of glazing and thus reduce energy usage,” says Oatman. “On the inside of the building we used materials high in recycled content like the terrazzo flooring. We continually sought out design solutions that lent themselves to sustainability.”
The building also features high-efficiency mechanical and lighting systems, water conservation and stormwater management, and a construction process that reduced and recycled construction waste.
Dramatic yet elegant, GS&P’s signature architectural design of the Jim W. Henderson Administration and Welcome Center has been hailed by the school, the local community and even industry peers, with GS&P garnering the Award of Excellence for the project at AIA Jacksonville’s Design Awards Gala.
“We have received accolades in spades from our peers in the architectural community,” says Oatman. “And I’ve heard visitors remark on the beauty and simplicity of the design. Like a museum, it’s breathtaking—an art form that moves you. The building is consistently highlighted by ERAU as their go-to architectural statement for the campus, and university leadership is extremely proud to bring alumni donors to and from the building.”
The new facility is part of a five-year, multimillion-dollar capital improvement plan that includes a number of new campus buildings. As ERAU carries out its master plan, the new administration and welcome center will set the tone for the school’s brand moving forward.
“A university campus is an ever-evolving system, but typically has legacy buildings that stand the test of time,” says Kolb. “This building, with its simplicity and drama, will be an ideal gateway into the future for the campus.”