University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire
Architect: River Architects, Inc. & SmithGroupJJR
Owner: State of Wisconsin - Division of State Facilities
Contractor: Miron Construction
The goal of this project was to consolidate the various departments of the College of Education and Human Sciences into one location. The departments of English and Foreign Language, which work with the education programs, were to co-locate in the new building, along with student services, which were in several locations on campus. These services include the Student Success Center, Services for Students with Disabilities, and the Office of Multicultural Affairs. Another key component was the inclusion of twenty-two new general assignment classrooms to replace existing spaces and re-balance the mix on campus. The new classrooms ranged in sizes from 45- to 160-seat rooms with active learning features. The space allocation outlined 114,600 assignable square feet totaling 182,000 gross square feet distributed over four levels.
Located within UW-Eau Claire’s academic core, the new building sits on the eastern edge of the lower campus. The two-acre site is compact and prominent, and is bookended on the north by the Zorn Arena/Kjer Theater/Brewer Hall complex, with Schneider Hall to the south. The west side opens to the central campus mall and is directly across from Schofield Hall. The east side abuts Park Avenue, which serves as the eastern edge of campus, and connects to the historic Third Ward residential district. The generally flat, L-shaped parcel provided approximately 49,000 GSF of buildable area.
The site offered a plethora of opportunities to shape the design solution. The narrow L-shaped rectangular parcel positioned between existing buildings on the north and south, and open to the central campus quad on the west and the historic Third Ward residential district to the east establishes key scale, massing and entrance scenarios. The three entrances and vertical circulation are strategically positioned at the southwest (campus mall), southeast (near parking), and the northeast (campus entrance) to respond to student use and campus planning patterns.
One of the main benefits provided by the narrow and elongated east-west axis site was the extended north and south elevation planes for harvesting this preferred orientation daylight. One of the primary design objectives was to place the highest concentration of students on the lowest floor levels to reduce the vertical circulation congestion at class changes. The main circulation route on the first and second floor is a single loaded, wide hallway on the south face with near floor to ceiling windows for natural light and view opportunities. This memorable route is punctuated with multiple cost-effective two-story open spaces to promote inter-level spatial dialogue.
The exterior design and building massing was derived from a goal to respond to the scale of the adjacent buildings. Schofield Hall, to the west of Centennial Hall, is the symbolic heart of campus. Schofield’s three-story massing is characterized by brick and stone facades articulated with brick pilasters, collegiate Gothic details, and a symmetric rhythm of solid brick wall mass flanking areas of large, punched windows with stone surrounds. Centennial Hall’s four-story design sets the fourth floor back, most notably at the east and west facades, and renders it in cast stone to reduce the appearance of the building’s mass, responding to the immediate context. The three-story massing of the west facade is punctuated by a stone tower recalling the tower on Schofield Hall, which serves as a landmark for the campus. Two-story pilasters frame large glass openings that provide a visual connection between the interior two-story volume of the building lobby and cyber café to the campus green.
The north and east facades use similar devices to reference the building’s context. The north facade is designed in anticipation of the planned demolition of Zorn Arena and Brewer Hall, recognizing that in the future, the north facade will be a prominent campus face. The east facade uses a quieter articulation of punched openings, responding to the residential character of the historic Third Ward neighborhood to the east.
The south facade features a continuous, two-story colonnade, recalling the two-story pilasters found on Schofield Hall. The colonnade provides a sense of scale to the facade while also creating a covered passage connecting Park Avenue and the adjacent Eau Claire community, to Schofield and the heart of the campus green. The curving wall recalls the Chippewa River, the economic origin for the City of Eau Claire, as well as Little Niagara, a meandering creek that is envisioned to be a more prominent feature in the campus Master Plan. The wall also creates a dynamic interior of the public corridor, with eddies for informal collaboration where the curve swells. The juncture of the south and west facades, right above the main student entrance, are the stacked collaborative learning spaces with their curved curtain wall of frit glazing overlooking the central campus quad.
Photos: Critical Eye Photography