09 Oct Function, Beauty, and Brand: Expansion at Elon
Function, Beauty, and Brand: Expansion at Elon College
Designing structures and exterior common areas at colleges and universities tend to follow three rules: Function, beauty and brand.
1) Make it functional for big events or small gatherings, catering trucks or service vehicles, cyclists, wheelchairs, and foot traffic.
2) Make it beautiful. People are attracted to aesthetics—color, texture, and shapes.
3) Make it about your brand. Extend the branding of the institution with an environment that makes sense and matches your legacy.
This is why brick is all over America’s college campuses.
Brick helps modern structures blend in with older buildings. Clay pavers endure as modern pedestrian and vehicular surfaces. And Elon University in Elon, NC, is a great example of “Function, Beauty, and Brand” in action.
Function, Beauty, and Brand at Elon
Approximately 6,700 students are returning this fall to an old campus—established in 1889—made new again over the summer break.
The school has either completed or is nearing completion on seven construction projects – including a new academic building, expansions to a library, dining hall, recreation center, and a residential neighborhood with space for 300 students.
The most noticeable expansion is the Schar Center, a 5,100-seat convocation center, that will serve as the home for Phoenix basketball and volleyball and as a site for campus events.
The new buildings, plazas, and walkways represent an investment in “function, beauty, and brand.”
Well-designed college campuses communicate a sense of place that encourages excellence. The dividend is that these kinds of environments translate into attracting more qualified students, faculty, and donors.
At Elon University, each new project purposefully uses the design elements based upon previously designed buildings on campus. The overall goal is for a pedestrian-friendly campus that’s built on a human scale, meaning that there are ample walkways and plazas with buildings generally no more than four stories high.
Brad Moore, Elon’s architect and Director of Planning Design and Construction Management, says that the university uses Elon Burn, a custom paver designed specifically for the university, on plazas and walkways. These buildings on campus use a collegiate Georgian architecture style, mostly of a burgundy brick that recalls the college color.
“If you come to our school, you’ll see a fairly seamless campus with brick and precast elements. Displaying white columns, gables, shingle roofs, and the cupolas,” said Moore. “We have a very distinctive architecture on campus. Our approach is that all buildings work together. You can’t look at a certain building and tell a time frame when it was built, all have the same style and same elements, and as a result, the campus continues to weave itself together.”
“Elon’s campus often makes an immediate and profound impression upon those who are visiting for the first time,” said House. “For faculty and staff – it becomes an integral part of the learning experience; providing an environment that fosters engagement, community, and connection. Through generations, the university’s leadership has built a campus that adheres to the school’s history, and prepares for its future.”— Steven House, provost and executive vice president
An intentional design
Elon University’s built environment had two defining moments in its history. One had to do with a fire that destroyed the college’s main building in 1923, an event so ingrained in the college culture that its mascot is now the Phoenix, shown rising from the ashes. The other was a college president who saw more value in a strategic landscape design for the campus than he did in keeping a convenient parking lot.
George Troxler, professor emeritus of history and retired dean of cultural and special programs at Elon University, wrote a book: “From A Grove of Oaks: The Story of Elon University.” The book outlines how the college’s administration building, which included an auditorium, offices, a library, and classrooms burned in 1923. It was replaced by five separate buildings of similar design, which included colonnades and clay paver walkways connecting them.
Since then, across decades of design and construction, buildings added to the campus have included elements established in the design of those original buildings.
In 1974, James Fred Young, then president of Elon, contracted with a Raleigh, NC based landscape architecture firm – Lewis Clarke Associates – to prepare a master land use plan, after a tract of land adjoining the campus was purchased. In October 1975, landscape architect Wayne McBride presented plans that called for open spaces, fountains, and clay paver walkways.
Among McBride’s initial suggestions was to tear out a parking lot in front of the Alamance Building, move parking to the outside edges of the campus, and put in a fountain and pedestrian plaza made of clay pavers with ringed walkways using similar materials that connect it to nearby buildings. Troxler recalls the uproar by faculty and students alike over taking out a perfectly good parking lot and spending money to do so, because there were other things that they saw as more important.
But Young and McBride were undeterred. The money would be raised, the parking lot was torn out, and Scott Plaza – which was named for a donor, would be built as a testimony to good design and to McBride’s persistence. Other plazas and clay paver walkways would follow as the campus was built out.
One of the more visible results of Scott Plaza and similar outdoor spaces at Elon has been a campus-wide tradition called College Coffee. Each Tuesday students, faculty, and staff meet from 9:40 a.m. until 10:20 a.m. to have coffee and get to know one another. The Coffee, which was first held on Scott Plaza, is now held at the Phi Beta Kappa Commons nearby and is a part of the Lambert Academic Village.
Troxler said that the idea of purposefully building beauty into a college campus pays dividends that grow year over year.
“Wayne McBride knew what he was doing,” said Troxler. “A beautiful campus attracts students, it attracts donors and it is nice to work and great to be a student at an attractive campus at. An attractive campus attracts more students and with more applications across the board, you can be more selective. As a student, your first impression is going to be positive and regardless of your SAT score, you’re going to apply to this school and this university is going to be higher on your list. And donors like to give to schools that are successful.”
Function, Beauty, and Brand is key to these capital investments. Structural and paving brick couldn’t be a better choice.