Sunday, September 4, 2011

East Campus Residence Hall

East Campus Residence Hall, University of Oregon (all photos by me)

The new East Campus Residence Hall (ECRH) at the University of Oregon is well on the way to opening its doors one year from now. The facility will be only the second new residence hall built on campus since 1963.(1) It is part of the university’s plan to significantly upgrade the overall quality of UO residence halls to attract more high-achieving students and help meet the UO’s goal of increasing full-time enrollment from 22,400 to 24,000.

I recently toured the construction site with fellow members of the Willamette Valley Chapter of the Construction Specifications Institute as part of the group’s August meeting.(2) Brad Black, Capital Projects Manager for University Housing, was our guide. He provided us with a comprehensive overview of the project and its unique features. The basic specifications are as follows:

Location: The block bordered by 15th Avenue, Moss Street, Agate Street, and 17th Avenue; east of the Museum of Natural and Cultural History, and across 15th Avenue from the Bean Residence complex

Design: Three residential towers rising four floors each above a shared first-floor plate consisting of dining facilities, classrooms, and other common areas

Resident Students: 454 undergraduates, to be housed in a mix of unit types (including singles with private bathrooms, doubles with private or shared “Jack & Jill” bathrooms, and suites comprised of three double rooms sharing a bathroom)

Square footage: 185,000 square feet

Architect: Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Architects (ZGF)

Contractor: Hoffman Construction

Cost: $71.5 million

Rendering of the ECRH by Zimmer Gunsul Frasca, Architects

Typical of a nationwide trend toward enhancing students’ on-campus experience, the ECRH will integrate academics and residential life. In addition to accommodating classrooms in the complex, the ECRH will be home to a full-time, on-site librarian to assist students with research in the afternoon and evening. It will also literally house a resident faculty scholar, who will direct the hall’s academic programs and provide curriculum leadership. Unique to the ECRH, the university will offer projects and programs for students enrolled in the Robert D. Clark Honors College and for foreign language majors seeking a language immersion experience (with anchor programs in Spanish and Mandarin).

View from scaffolding overlooking the roof of the 1st floor commons level below; four floors of housing rise above in three blocks

As expected, the ECRH will feature state-of-the-art wireless data access, multimedia presentation rooms, and a variety of dining options including an espresso bar and a “grab & go” outlet.

Interior of one of the top floor double rooms; note the dormer at right

Significantly though, the project breaks no new architectural ground. ZGF and its team developed a relatively pedestrian design, not unlike its earlier Living-Learning Center located in the heart of the UO campus. Despite its technical advancements (including significant energy saving strategies, which the university hopes will help garner the project LEED Gold certification) and market-savvy amenities, the ECRH simply doesn’t aspire to radically recast the mold for on-campus residence halls.

The architectural vocabulary is a stripped down, contemporary interpretation of the “Georgian Colonial” style prescribed by Ellis F. Lawrence (UO Campus Architect from 1914 to 1946) for buildings outside of the main campus quadrangle. The ECRH inherits its DNA from Lawrence’s precedents; like Hendricks, Susan Campbell, and Straub halls before it, the new building features narrow wings, pitched roofs, punched windows, and a brick wrapper. Despite its large size, the ECRH’s bulk isn’t overwhelming.

BIM technology facilitated coordination of different building systems

The resulting installation

During the tour, Brad emphasized the importance of Building Information Modeling (BIM) to the project. The ECRH is large, complex, and expensive. BIM is increasingly central to the success of significant developments like the ECRH. One of the core strengths of BIM is the integration of computer modeling into project coordination. This is most clearly evident when disparate design disciplines and trades utilize BIM to perform clash detection. However, BIM’s true value may lie in its utility as a reliable basis for integrated decision making during the design phase.(3)

Beyond the ECRH, the University of Oregon intends to further upgrade and augment its stock of on-campus housing. Upcoming projects will replace some of the most deficient of the old dormitory complexes. I’m eager to see how the residence hall paradigm at the UO will continue to evolve.

(1) The other newer residence hall is the Living-Learning Center, completed in 2006. ZGF designed the Living-Learning center.

(2) I’ve been a member of the Construction Specifications Institute since 1988. CSI offers the opportunity to network in a collegial setting with professionals representing all sectors of the construction industry: property owners, developers, contractors, engineers, specification writers, building products manufacturers—the whole gamut. The organization’s name is misleading; it’s about so much more than just construction specifications.

(3) My experience with Revit points to another benefit of BIM: the software’s capability to define parameters and relationships between objects within the information model such that if one changes, related objects also change. By ensuring that different views are automatically consistent, errors are greatly reduced.

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