The UA System maintains offices in Birmingham, Huntsville, Montgomery and Tuscaloosa. After working from three separate buildings in Tuscaloosa for more than 40 years, System leaders decided it was time to consolidate the administrative operations into one centrally located facility, where the chancellor and senior staff are primarily located.
GS&P had previously partnered with UA on the renovation of Moore Hall, and was selected by UAS once again to provide architecture and interior design services for a new 35,000-square-foot administration building on University Boulevard.
“System staff working in Tuscaloosa were previously housed in multiple off-campus buildings,” explains project architect Jennifer Carr. “It was clear from our very first meeting with leadership that it was of the utmost importance to bring their staff together not only to provide a central, unified location, but to break down the ‘silos’ of communication. So, along with creating a functional and efficient workspace for staff, they desired a design that encouraged dynamic interaction between the various departments.”
In addition to uniting staff to foster a more collaborative and cohesive environment, another key client mandate was that the new facility represent the collective strength of all three universities within the System. Also critical to leadership was that the building establish an iconic and enduring image of UAS that represented the dedication and commitment of the trustees, as well as trustee emeritus and building-fund donor the late Sid McDonald, a well-known and respected Alabama business and civic leader.
Unification through Programming
One of the most significant challenges during the programming phase was developing office standards. Carr explains:
“System staff were not only physically separated from one another, but had also adapted to working in residential spaces. We felt that it was vital to meet with staff members individually to determine their roles, how they worked, and what they ultimately wanted their workspace to be.
“We also used questionnaires and on-site observation to better understand their current working conditions and what would be needed for daily functions and future growth. Based on that personal feedback and observation, we implemented office standards into the program that not only increase spatial efficiency, but also allow spaces to function in a multitude of ways.”
The Power of Three
Gathering data from staff wasn’t the only source to inform the designers. The team researched each campus to understand their individual mission statements and master plans to help them incorporate the three different university cultures into the new building. They also toured the campuses, collecting imagery and additional data to experience a more personal interaction with each environment.
“In support of the client’s goals, we worked to create a strong design parti that organized the plan and building mass based on their desired connection to the campus and the representative elements of the three universities,” explains Carr. “The parti was developed into three components—we referred to it as ‘the power of three.’ It was intended that each one of these elements be distinctive and visually symbolize the tenet of each campus: research, technology and tradition.”
“UAB reinforced the concept of using research as the basis of our design, while UAH’s look toward the future became important in designing a traditional space that incorporated the latest in technology,” notes project coordinator Poppy Tidwell. “UA showed us that by utilizing neoclassical proportions the end result is a beautiful facility that not only fits into the aesthetic context of the campus, but also provides spaces that simply feel good.”
“It was also very important to the client, and to us, to create a connection between the interior and exterior,” adds Carr. “If there was a special element on the outside, it needed to be equally expressed on the inside. For example, the University Boulevard entry was of particular significance to the client because they wanted to present an iconic, easily identifiable presence that reinforced the gateway into the newly acquired Bryce Campus. We developed a direct axis from this entry that features a beautifully detailed, transitionally styled linear art gallery, which starts with a wood-clad entry element that pays homage to the donor, Sid McDonald, as well as to the current members of the board of trustees.”
The axis terminates with the receptionist function and an elegant entry into the boardroom, while a secondary axis extends from the primary pedestrian entry and ends with a stunning vista to the existing campus.
Synergy & Collaboration
Collaboration spaces of different sizes were incorporated into the design of the new facility. These areas helped to balance the traditional office configuration with opportunities for staff interaction—both inside and out. To support spontaneous and ongoing collaboration, the design team created adjacencies that promoted logical and efficient flow of staff throughout the building.
“We organized the departments that worked hand in hand so they were close to each other,” says Carr. “For example, the chancellor’s office is on the second floor, so we consulted with him to see who he worked with on a daily basis and needed to be close to. We also arranged the floor plan so accessing the various departments would be easier, and incorporated pockets of meeting space within each area so if a staff member wants to meet in a more open environment, they have that option.”
Evidencing the success of this new synergism, UAS administration reports that the new facility hosts a variety of meetings and events, and has become a central hub for inter-institutional communication.
A Campus Landmark
GS&P’s design successfully represents all three campuses while creating an iconic and timeless image for UAS. Built to last, the new facility features sustainable elements that support long-term durability, including an energy-efficient exterior envelope with high R-values within the walls and roof, recycled content finishes, energy-efficient glazing, and an HVAC system that allows for control of individual areas within the building, significantly reducing energy consumption.
“Working on this project was a great honor for GS&P,” says Carr. “Throughout the design process, we focused on creating a landmark facility that not only supports staff operations, but aesthetically ties in with the existing campus buildings. Our design achieves that, striking a unique balance between the traditional and the progressive, with neoclassical features that reinforce the campus architecture, and collaborative interiors that incorporate state-of-the-art technology.
“As with many projects, there were design modifications along the way,” notes Carr. “But we successfully met those challenges, and, in many ways, the new face of the university showcases that GS&P truly cares—if we do something, we want to do it the right way and see it through, no matter what changes may arise.”
Mike Rodgers, assistant vice chancellor of construction management at UAS, attests to the design team’s commitment and their ability to effectively adapt to change:
“The GS&P team just rolled up their sleeves, communicated openly with us on design choices throughout the process, and got the job done. The end result is a finely designed classical building that makes a statement about The University of Alabama System and its tripartite mission.”