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Colorado State University is joining city leaders to accommodate an ever-growing population in Fort Collins. Here are the minds behind CSU’s urban emergence.
Parmelee Hall. Lory Student Center. Eddy Hall. The Oval. Many spaces on the Colorado State campus have evolved over time, and others have intentionally been kept the same. But each and every place – from a cozy outdoor nook to a favorite dining hall – is tightly woven into the memories and life experiences of CSU students and graduates.
Today, the university is undergoing its biggest transformation ever. In the middle of a campus-wide push to update older facilities, add new ones, and accommodate growing student and faculty populations, much of the campus is changing before our eyes.
While orange cones and closed routes can be an inconvenience, Dan Stiles (’00) recalls his feelings as a CSU student during necessary renovations that followed the 1997 flood.
“I think one thing that’s fun as a student is to feel the energy of transformation,” says Stiles, who also served as ASCSU president. “When construction is going on, you get a sense that the university is moving forward. There are people investing and re-investing in your education … It gives the impression that the campus is alive.”
To be sure, this decade’s dramatic transformation is history in the making. Current students are already benefitting from the work completed over the past couple of years – and future generations will enjoy a sophisticated and modernized learning experience on campus.
Where most of us see the physical changes of buildings or additions going up, the CSU architects see much more. Their vision encompasses all the life experiences that take place within and around the new walls.
The university’s singular goal is – and always has been – to design and build for student success. In different eras, this has held different meanings based on social norms of the day, as well as the thought processes and technological capabilities related to design and construction.
Every decision is made with a thoughtful picture of how these spaces will ultimately serve the lives of contemporary students. The spot where a student meets his lifelong best friend. A classroom where a young engineer gets a glimpse of the real potential for her career. These are important moments in time, and the spaces in which they occur carry a whole new meaning in that context.
Modern Lifestyle, Modern Learning
Per Hogestad, a CSU architect, says that the current transformation is part of a continual redefining of how we teach and learn. As times change, the buildings must evolve and adapt as well.
Today, dorms aren’t just student residences; they’re also major gathering areas, spaces for study, and places to get campus information. Likewise, classrooms aren’t just spaces in which students listen to traditional lectures; they’re often actively participating in hands-on, group activities.
And of course, modern concerns about sustainability play a big role in the choice of building materials.
CSU architect Fred Haberecht says that contemporary students expect different things as compared to their counterparts from the 1950s to the 1990s. While today’s residents generally want more privacy in their individual living spaces, they also desire lots of opportunities for socialization.
“When we remodeled Braiden and Parmelee, we built in more study spaces and kitchen areas,” Haberecht notes. “We realized there was a need for group study, and for group interaction, and socialization. And this change is also relative to teaching and learning.”
In the classroom, for instance, the 20th-century teacher-centric model (with a professor standing at a lectern, and students doing homework independently) is mostly considered old-school. Student-centric models are the wave of the future. So these rooms and many other locations are now designed to facilitate breaking into small groups for discussion and collaboration.
Morgan Library is an example, according to Haberecht.
When it was originally conceived and remodeled in the ’90s, there were lots of study carrels and places to work independently, and within prescribed hours. Now, an expanded café, more digital content, and The Cube – which offers group study areas with 24-hour access – have been designed around the new educational model, and the corresponding behaviors of students.
“The library is really a big, open space for interaction now,” he says.
New Approaches to Research
Hogestad is excited to talk about the interactive nature of education, made possible by enhanced technology.
“There’s now a 3D science classroom, with a projection system. The students wear 3D glasses… and they can do things like walk right through, and stand inside a DNA helix. It’s absolutely incredible.”
He also notes that the open-design approach has carried over into nearly every facet of the university, including research facilities.
“In the Diagnostic Medicine Center (on the South Campus), the offices are set up to look over an atrium, and on the opposite side are the research labs. But there is a glass wall to the atrium – so anyone walking through can watch and see what they’re doing in the labs,” he says enthusiastically. “I think it’s phenomenal that we’re so transparent now, to allow everyone to look at this work … And these open labs also give opportunities for serendipitous meetings.”
Points of Connection. Moments to Remember.
Of course, college is all about serendipitous meetings. The setting serves to connect people for life and career. And for all of us, places are very much a part of the memories we hold most dear.
Kent Rominger (’78) lived in Edwards Hall.
“At the time, the dorm was still fairly modern, and it was in good shape,” he recalls. “I really enjoyed living there, and I met some of my friends who I’ve been friends with for life. We’ve been in each other’s weddings… I have some really great memories.” Rominger met his wife at CSU, and the two of them spent much of their time in the engineering building, where they both had many classes – years before he joined NASA and piloted the space shuttle.
Rominger and his wife are, of course, one couple among many. Tim and Jackie O’Hara (’82) also met at CSU, when they both lived in Ingersoll Hall.
“Tim was a photographer and I was responsible for laying out the newspaper, and making changes. I learned typesetting, too,” Jackie says.
The two say they spent lots of time working in the darkroom, which at that time was housed in the basement of the Lory Student Center. The hands-on experience set the stage for Tim’s future photography business, and Jackie’s establishment of a successful Fort Collins marketing agency.
Stiles made a life-changing connection at CSU as well. As a major in civil engineering, he recalls one professor in particular, Neil Grigg, who influenced him toward a focus on environmental sustainability.
“He was the one who first started me down my career path,” says Stiles. “I saw how I could use my background in science and engineering to change public policy.”
Grigg supported him in obtaining an internship with the U.S. Secretary of Transportation in Washington, D.C. and Stiles has since gone on to work with Al Gore, Richard Branson and many others.
Stewards of Spaces & Memories
So how does the physical transformation of campus affect alumni?
The O’Haras say they get excited about visiting the remodeled student center today. “What I really love about Lory now,” Jackie says, ”is that it’s very progressive, but for us as former students, they left enough elements in there that it feels like home. The main stairway is the same, the mosaic is the same. It’s fresh and new, but there are a few things that are reminiscent of when we were there. And the views are the same, so you know right where you are.”
Both Tim and Jackie say that when they walk through the new facility, they can still envision themselves in that space, years ago, hanging out with friends.
That’s exactly what Fred Haberecht and his colleagues hope for. “We work hard to preserve those spaces, and be good stewards of spaces that filled that function [of building lifelong memories]… Places like Lory, the Oval, and Danforth Chapel. For those coming back, I hope they see us as good stewards of shared spaces. And for those that are newer, I hope they see the investment in the campus experience, and that we’re investing in the future of these places as well.”
Preservation of the Landscape
CSU architects are just as passionate about preserving the green spaces and outdoor gathering areas, as they are about building beautiful and functional facilities.
“Campus is getting denser, and buildings are getting taller,” Hogestad says. “That makes all the spaces between the buildings critical. There have to be places that are engaging, and made for social activity.”
Rominger agrees, noting that when he was a student, the outdoor spaces were among the most important to him. He remembers that some of his favorite times at CSU were spent playing football or throwing a Frisbee with friends, in a green space tucked between the wings of Edwards Hall.
“The Oval was always such a nice, shady, inviting place, too,” he says. “And the intramural fields really lent themselves to the college and athletic atmosphere.”
Today, many current and former students can point to great memories from these places. Some, including Rominger and Stiles, even say these areas factored into their decision to attend CSU.
For his part, Haberecht says he hopes that the campus experience will be one that makes many want to return, over and over again.