Students, staff influence design of new campus “living room” with best views on campus
[Des Plaines, IL] – The stipulation from the Office of Student Life came early in the planning of Oakton Community College’s new Student Center: “We do not want this to be a space where students sit by themselves with their technology in a room full of people and call it engagement. Somehow, the space needs to be designed to create interaction.”
Today, the Student Center radiates as a beacon for students to gather, relax, and create lasting impressions. The space, located at the heart of the campus, offers casual seating, views of Lake Oakton, student collaboration spaces and even a fireplace. It also provides a home to the college’s 50-plus clubs and organizations.
Karl Brooks, Oakton’s vice president for student affairs, said, “The Student Center is a quality space for students to not only lounge and share in a communal experience, but also to work together in groups. It gives our campus leaders a place to do the important work they do.”
Oakton students and staff heavily influenced the planning and design for this project, which was over 15 years in the making. Their voices are embedded in everything from the layout and furniture to the vibrant colors and materials.
The college and its educational foundation recently hosted a grand opening for the Student Center.
Oakton President Joianne Smith told those at the opening, “I envision this space as a living room . . . a place to relax, meet up, watch a little TV, visit with friends, and maybe even make new ones.”
The 5,900-square-foot renovation, designed by Legat Architects and built by Riley Construction, finished on time and under budget.
Created by Students
From the very beginning, Oakton wanted the Student Center to evolve with the participation of the college’s most valuable asset: its students. The Student Government Association had been raising funds for the project as early as 2001.
In fall of 2015, a core team of student representatives, along with Oakton faculty and Legat team members, toured student-focused spaces at colleges in the area.
Bejil Thomas, Legat team member and former Oakton student, said, “We wanted the students to see first-hand what’s available and to get a feel for what they like and don’t, for what works and what doesn’t.”
This student-staff-architect team then did a series of “charrettes” to explore different design options.
Krissie Harris, Oakton student life coordinator, said, “The core [student] team sought student opinion through a variety of means and brought those ideas back to the design team.”
The main area has the flexibility to transform from an open gathering space to a venue for readings or presentations. Students helped with selection and placement of tech-equipped podiums, a recessed projector screen, and wall-monitored monitors. They also campaigned for the electric fireplace amid the feature wall of reclaimed barn wood.
“It’s not only a place for students,” said Krisi Aglikin, president of Oakton’s Student Government Association. “It was created by students.”
Other spaces in the Student Center include two student conference rooms, two faculty offices, an “Executive Suite” for student leadership, a larger room for clubs and a room dedicated to “The Occurrence,” the college newspaper.
The Outside Brought In
For years, some of the best views on campus were from a couple dated classrooms, but most students didn’t know: they couldn’t experience those views from the corridor or the cafeteria.
Today, that corridor and cafeteria offer a much different view: 9.5-foot-high glass walls display the bustling Student Center and, beyond it, Lake Oakton and part of the campus’s marquee facility: the Margaret Burke Lee Center for Science and Health Careers.
“Since much of the campus was built in the ’70s when natural light and views were not a priority for student life, we worked with the college to bring Oakton’s beautiful campus into the center of the campus as much as possible,” said Legat’s Michael Lundeen, principal and senior project manager. “There are now floor-to-ceiling windows between the student life spaces and the inner campus. These windows encourage students to participate in student activities or simply enjoy the campus.”
The Student Center also illustrates the concept of biophilic design, which integrates nature into the built environment.
“Studies have proven that there is a biological need to connect to nature,” said Monique Taylor, interior designer at Legat. “Doing so improves productivity and leads to more positive interactions.”
The materials palette at the Student Center was chosen to create a relaxed feel, and complement the campus landscape. For instance, the feature wall has reclaimed barn wood that echoes the Lee Center lobby, and a prairie grass graphic decorates some of the glass walls. Even a shadow-like pattern makes the carpet look as if trees soar above it.
And if students want to step outside? No problem: double doors lead to a patio with seating.
A Place Where They Belong
The Student Center stems from the college’s “Connecting What Matters” strategic plan focused on student success.
At the grand opening, Oakton Board of Trustees Chair Ann Tennes said, “Research substantiates that these investments have a profound impact on both teaching and learning outcomes.”
Ann Marie Barry, Oakton’s director of student life, played a key role in the planning and design of the spaces.
“The leadership lesson,” she said, “is that dreams are possible when we set a common goal, when we respect that every idea has merit, and that every voice deserves to be heard. The results are beyond all our wildest dreams.”
Since its opening, the Student Center has rapidly become one of the most popular places on campus.
Joianne Smith said, “It’s a place where students can know that they belong.”
Contact Legat to learn more about higher education design, or comment below to share your thoughts on this post.
Thanks to Oakton Community College for supplying some of the above images.