The new Center for Community at the University of Colorado at Boulder was designed to live up to its name by being a welcoming and intimate home away from home for students, faculty, and staff on a diverse, sprawling campus of 30,000 people. The overriding program was straightforward: to create a destination with the best and most diverse food in Boulder and to combine previously scattered student services into one building, while simultaneously raising their profile.
The building is strategically located on a busy thoroughfare between residential and academic neighborhoods, where one third of the campus population passes the new campus icon daily. With its exterior walls constructed of rough-hewn, variegated sandstone from local quarries, and its terracotta roof tiles, the building adheres to the existing campus aesthetic that dates to the 1930s, even as it embodies a commanding new architectural presence.
An expansive, three-story atrium and signature bell tower anchor four elongated wings that capture both natural light and afford inspiring views of the nearby mountains. Inside, warm wood trim and paneling combine with ample swaths of vivid and varied colors to enliven and distinguish spaces, imbuing them with a sense of optimism. Local materials and colors, and organic patterns serve to bring the outside indoors. Carved into the limestone are flowers representing 50 cultures from around the world, as well as intertwined knot patterns above entranceways. Abstract tree patterns adorn spandrel panels. Open space and aesthetics are served by locating a 367-car parking garage below grade.
The building has achieved LEED Gold certification and features many energy conserving materials, systems, and approaches. For example, the building is not cooled by traditional air conditioning, which would require an energy-intensive chiller, but rather by two innovative evaporative cooling systems.
This popular campus destination consolidates all 12 student service departments, such as Career Counseling, International Education, Counseling and Victim Assistance, Student Affairs, Disability Services, and Multi-Cultural Affairs, which were previously scattered about campus in building basements and in dormitory buildings. Students who may not have known about the wide variety of assistance available to them now regularly visit the building where all of the offices are located and designed to be highly visible.
The Center for Community has quickly become the place to break bread, have meetings, and connect with new people on campus. The Micro Restaurant-style dining facility is geared to satisfying the tastes of an increasingly diverse, sophisticated, and international student body. A dozen themed food stations, or Micro Restaurants, each with its own ambience and fare, offer everything from sushi, Latin, Asian, Italian and Middle Eastern delights to organic local dishes. Chefs will even whip up a favorite family recipe on the spot. There is a to-die-for dessert destination and the only kosher food venue in Boulder. During the first semester of operation, dining attendance exceeded expectations by 50 percent, serving more than 6,000 meals a day, while faculty and staff patronage doubled.
Clearly, the days of military-style cafeteria service are over. Modern universities have to compete with their peers not only to attract new students, but also for revenue with off-campus eateries and even with microwaves in the dorm rooms. Increasingly, amenities affect both morale and the size of next years applicant pool. Another factor in creating attractive destinations like the Center for Community is that administrators prefer their students to be on school grounds, well nourished, connected to student services, and interacting with one another and the faculty. The Center for Community provides the institutional equivalent of the sit-down family meal.
A diversified food service also makes sense in an era when tastes are fickle. If one Micro Restaurant becomes yesterdays news, it is easy to remake that one venue to serve the hot culinary genre of the moment. Designed-in variety and flexibility solve the problem that campus food service has always presented: frequenting the same restaurant even a favorite establishment can get old if one goes there every single day two or three times!
The design and program of the Center for Community was informed and enriched by the design teams interactive workshops that engaged campus stakeholders, from administrators and faculty to students and food service employees. The thorough and iterative design process encompassed six inclusive workshops that solicited ideas and tested reactions with representatives from the university. In addition to tailoring the result specifically to the Boulder campus culture, the participation built a sense of ownership of the project and consensus throughout the community.
The final design had the goal of connecting not simply human beings with one another, but people with the environment. With the Flatirons of the Rocky Mountains as a dramatic backdrop and the buildings H configuration of narrow 60-foot-wide wings, the Centers interior is open to natural light and spectacular views. The form of “C4C,” as it is now known on campus, also establishes a series of appealing outdoor gathering spaces, among them: a protected north entry court; an east courtyard for large open-air events or performances with the Grotto restaurant conveniently situated along one side; and a west patio, dubbed the Root Beer Garden, facing the mountains. A central commissary serving other campus dining venues is located below, with easy service access to the main road to the east.
Centerbrook was the design architect, collaborating with Davis Partnership Architects of Denver, the architect of record. The foodservice consulting was provided by Bakergroup of Grand Rapids, Michigan. The building took just 15 months to construct.