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Good Design Meets Serendipity in the Most Essential Way

An unwavering requirement of good design is that it is timeless. With the introduction of COVID-19, the importance of multi-functional spaces that can pivot to accommodate new ways of use – which is not new conceptually, but a valued benefit in project design now more than ever – has increased focus as organizations and companies globally respond to safe use of space. 

University of Arizona’s Honors Village 

When STG Design began design development for the University of Arizona’s Honors Village in 2016, COVID-19 was obviously not on anyone’s radar. However, key design elements employed by STG have allowed the University to maximize use of the Village while safety concerns and social distancing are critical. The Village serves as a residential complex featuring multiple amenities like academic spaces, collaborative learning classrooms, faculty and staff offices, a wellness center, an interior courtyard providing flexible classrooms, outdoor recreational areas, and impromptu meeting spaces including a small outdoor amphitheater for gathering. Responding to the University’s desire to increase the amount of outdoor space for student use, the STG team repurposed a pedestrian area between two of the campus buildings; closing a street between them and essentially bridging the space and creating a functional recreation and gathering area to supplement the interior courtyard. 

To increase the amount of open, light-infused space accessible to students, the five-story residential tower surrounding the interior courtyard was designed to provide views and allow light to enter. A careful balance of light and shade was established to allow protective shade for the times of day when students use the space most. Additionally, STG ensured that every space served multiple functions (providing ease of dual use) and assured the Public Private Partnership responsible for project development, that this University hub would capitalize on use of the land – a premium on campus. 

As part of the commitment to fluidity of space, an early design element proved particularly use-ful with both permanent and moveable seating in the outdoor amphitheater to encourage and accommodate groups of all sizes with varying seating requirements. “While we always design with future flexibility in mind, never before have we so immediately seen that flexibility enacted. It really validated the design solution,” said project architect Michael Gilbert, RA. The courtyard also features areas with multiple built-in tables naturally distanced by hardscape planters woven into the landscape to encourage privacy and separation, which is particularly critical now. “When we created the outdoor amphitheater, we knew it would be a very useful space. Given the new restrictions and need for outdoor, socially-distanced learning spaces, the covered space has become even more important. Creating a visually attractive and practical covering that works well at different times of day and in all seasons is crucial to the success of the project,” says UA’s David Scott Allen, Special Advisor to the Dean. 

“While we always design with future flexibility in mind, never before have we so immediately seen that flexibility enacted. It really validated the design solution.” – Michael Gilbert, RA 

At the Honors College, deliberate programming, coupled with good design, led to adaptive use that allows for unanticipated and unprecedented scenarios. During a recent one-year, post-construction walk-through of the facility, UA was weighing how to reopen while meeting the needs of their students and faculty on campus in a COVID-19 scenario. 

Classroom space was a main challenge. By adding specially designed sun sails throughout the outdoor courtyard, the University advantageously repurposed the amenity space as dedicated outdoor classrooms that provide safe social distancing of groups from 5 – 60 students. Good design, and a bit of serendipity, result in an efficient and cost-effective learning environment. Add whiteboards made of the same materials as the retaining walls and we create a functional space with visual unity and a sense of permanence. “With the high value placed on land, STG made good on the dual-purpose design we delivered to the University that has become essential in the COVID-19 environment,” said project designer, Jeff Ervin. 

As the University prepares for a fall semester opening, they will welcome students to a facility that allows for safety and quality education as the main focus; all made possible through good design from the start. 

Jeff Ervin, LEED AP, is a Principal at STG Design with nearly 25 years of experience, 16 of which have been spent at STG Design. Specializing in planning and conceptual design in Central Texas, Jeff has served as the lead designer for several corporate office and mixed-use projects. His experience has given him a comprehensive understanding of the City of Austin and unique needs of the end-user. He is known for his ability to design to a client’s expectations and budget. 

Michael Gilbert, RA, is an Associate Principal at STG and brings more than a decade years of experience to the team, supporting projects from design through the construction phase. Working out of the Austin office, he is the practice leader for the firm’s Multi-Family market sector has a particular focus on different types of residential housing. These product types include student housing, multi-family, and senior living. Michael believes that a successful project is one where communities are currently eating, sleeping, and living daily life in environments that he helped to design. 

Founded in 1976, STG Design serves clients nationally and internationally with primary offices in Austin and Nashville. Constantly working to make our clients, our world, and ourselves better through design, STG Design serves clients in multi-family, commercial, science and technology, healthcare, higher education, non-profit, and hospitality sectors. STG Design’s legacy includes work for Trammell Crow, Karlin, Oracle, Apple, Dell, Box, Indeed, NI (formerly National Instruments), RetailMeNot, LCRA, Pulte, Del Webb, 3M, American Campus Communities, and the University of Texas. 

To experience the STG difference in design for yourself contact

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