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April 14, 2000
VILLAGE IN A BASEMENT: ARCHITECTURAL DESIGN
INTERPRETS MISSION OF LEARNING TEACHING CENTER AT UD
DAYTON, Ohio -- When officials from other universities see the Ryan C. Harris Learning Teaching Center at the University of Dayton, the reaction has been "Give us one of those!"
But the space is intimately entwined with the vision of education as practiced at UD -- creative, innovative and collaborative, making full use of technology as a learning and teaching tool. It's not for everyone.
"Our main objective was to come up with something that would be a signature facility for UD," said Rick Perales, UD's director of facilities management. "I think our team achieved what we set out to do. We've turned something that was a dungeon of a basement into an electric, exciting place for faculty and students to explore how to teach, study and learn."
Terry Hajduk, senior architectural designer for Burgess & Niple Ltd. of Columbus, which served as design specialists on the project, started in May 1998 with a basement of 18,500 square feet. It was a cavernous room that previously served as the law school library, with columns dotting the floor space and harsh fluorescent lighting that hung from a 10-foot suspended ceiling. Eighteen months later, he and his colleagues had worked with University officials to create an indoor village, with rooms interpreted as buildings, corridors as friendly lanes and the 15-foot ceiling as a multi-layered sky, complete with "clouds."
The 18-month construction project cost $2.9 million. The team included Edge & Tinney Architects Inc. as the project architect/engineer firm, and the construction contractor was Fender Construction Co. Inc. As of April, teams from Ohio Dominican College and Franklin University in Columbus have toured the facility, as have groups from Lakeland Community College near Cleveland and Ohio Valley College in Parkersburg, W.Va.
"We were very intent on creating a physical environment that suits what the Learning Teaching Center is doing," Hajduk said. "Architecture has a power in influencing what you do. It can make your work miserable or it can enhance it, make it enjoyable and actually easier to do. I think we've succeeded."
So does the staff. "The whole place is inspiring," said Deb Bickford, associate provost for learning and pedagogy and director of the Learning Teaching Center. "It's bold, transformational and exciting and reminds me daily that we, the staff, are here to stretch to create programs and opportunities that are creative and innovative.
"It's a metaphor for life. I'm always seeing things I've not noticed before -- when I take the time to stop and look."
Part of the innovative nature of the space is the way technology is seamlessly integrated into the design. "The wireless system is just magnificent, to think you can walk around with a laptop and never plug in," Hajduk said. "But there are also outlets everywhere for power and data, so we have two options."
Technology is not an obtrusive part of the overall impact. "A lot of places like this are driven by technology," Hajduk said. "In UD's Learning Teaching Center, technology is subservient to the larger issues of teaching and learning and faculty development."
Although it's still located in the Roesch Library basement, the new space makes use of natural light, with a bank of windows on the western wall (where the land slopes away from the building) and an open floor plan that lets the light penetrate the interior.
If you were to take a bird's-eye view of the floor plan, you'd notice the 15-degree rotation from the rectangular grid of the layout. The rotation lends odd angles to the walls and corners, particularly along the perimeter.
The interior spaces have names. The Rotunda is the centerpiece, the Collaboratory is dedicated to computer technology and groupware and the Studio is an experimental classroom. The Forum is a meeting space, and The Blend is a coffee bar managed by undergraduates from the School of Business Administration's entrepreneurship program.
The furniture was carefully chosen and in some cases represents new concepts in design. Four "puzzles" will serve the Learning Teaching fellows when they're chosen. "They look like big steamer trunks, but they fold out into offices," Hajduk said. "They're on wheels, so you can move them where you want them. They're self-contained and even have a light inside."
Even closed, the puzzles are serviceable. There's a mail slot to be used for paperwork.
The ceiling contributes to the village atmosphere. The highest layers are painted deep purple, as are the pipes and ducts that run along the top. Lower levels of the ceiling are white, suspended at different heights. Some are angled.
How's the space working out? "They're putting it on like a new shoe," Hajduk said. "They putting it on and jiggling it around and getting comfortable. Normally, when people move in, all you hear about is what doesn't work. In the Learning Teaching Center, people have taken the time to understand what works. And it does."