Education Interiors

Come Inside

Inside Tinkham Veale University Center

PHOTO © JAMES STEINKAMP PHOTOGRAPHY

There's much happening in terms of the interior design of Case Western University’s award-winning Tinkham Veale University Center. But make no mistake, its furnishings, forms, floors and finishes come together seamlessly to present a design solution as compelling as it is practical.

Among the features: elegant floors defining spaces and the movement through them, pale wood finishes interspersed with vivid colors, cozy conference rooms with an air of prestige, subtle partitions in otherwise open areas and a two-story-high interactive media wall, all of which are situated in a grand, flowing space with a chic but easy vibe. This place serves as both a thoroughfare and a destination on the university’s Cleveland, OH, campus.

Opened in 2014, the university center, with 89,000 gross square feet, is a $50-million, donor-funded building that consolidates numerous functions, pulling them to a well-used spot in the middle of a changing, growing campus.

Inside Case Western University Tinkham Veale University Center

PHOTO © SCOTT BERMAN

Designing a Place for Everyone

The high-profile central campus site, which unites different campus areas, called for a variety of responses. As Stephen Campbell, the university’s vice president of Campus Planning and Facilities Management, told College Planning & Management magazine during a tour of the center, “Part of the challenge was to create not only a place for students, but to create a highly flexible space that could adapt for development functions, commencement” and various activities.

The building, which targets LEED Gold, replaces a repurposed student center elsewhere on campus and houses various administrative and student organization offices, a restaurant and bar establishment that also serves as the faculty club, a ballroom, conference rooms, a food court and various student spaces, all beneath a sloping green roof. The center encloses the route of what was an outdoor walkway for students between the campus’ residence halls to the north and classrooms to the south, explains Campbell. That walkway is now inside, a route assumed by the expansive concourse through the university center. So, proverbially speaking, the building is much less about “build it and they will come” than it is about “build it where they already were.”

Inside Case Western University Tinkham Veale University Center

PHOTO © SCOTT BERMAN

Architects Mark Walsh and Mark Jolicoeur, members of the design team at the project’s architectural firm, Perkins+Will, describe the building as one that exudes transparency, connectivity and openness. As the firm says, the building is designed to “foster greater interaction and collaboration among students, faculty, staff and community.” Such intentions enable a variety of uses, with Jolicoeur calling the building essentially a hybrid student and university center with “one foot in each.” Cleveland’s CBLH Design, which provided construction administration support, puts it this way: “The design is built around circulation” with the building exuding an “always open” feel with various spaces for “social and cultural engagement.” The construction manager, incidentally, was Donley’s, Inc. of Cleveland.

The Value of Student Input

Designing the interior took some doing, with the process including students’ input about the kind of amenities and functions they wanted — Jolicoeur describes a visioning session and programming meetings “before any drawing was done.” Students’ comments and questions revolved around the building’s sustainability, openness, food choices and student organization office space, he points out. Campbell, meanwhile, notes that the most prevalent request from students, perhaps surprising to an outside observer, was for places to study.

Inside Case Western University Tinkham Veale University Center

PHOTO © SCOTT BERMAN

How the interior design responds became evident during a 2015 tour of the university center. This is a sleek, comfortable space that is clearly a showpiece for the campus. First, there’s the thoroughfare, which traverses the length of the building. The thoroughfare passes a dining area and a setback line of food service choices that bring new functions and retail to the long-established campus route. Color delineations on the thoroughfare’s expansive, high-gloss floor suggest not only the main route but also, at angles, offshoots to and from the dining area. Overlooking this is a large, inviting, nine-tier set of bleachers in pale wood. The seating is part of a large set piece, so to speak, that also has a staircase and a high expanse of matching paneling. The piece has another function: tucked behind and beneath the bleacher-stairs is a quiet, well-lit space equipped with soft and hard chairs in an olive tone, and a bold dash of bright color. The furnishings are arranged for group and individual work.

Such elements reflect how students use campus spaces, Campbell explains, in the sense that “it’s important socially that they can walk through a space, see a group and without committing to it, walk past or join the group. The space gives them that option, and not be socially awkward.”

On a related note, near a student activities suite, there are upholstered chairs — every two chairs share one table — with backs high enough to serve subtly as privacy partitions and conversation sound buffers.

Inside Case Western University Tinkham Veale University Center

PHOTO © SCOTT BERMAN

A Welcoming and Flexible Space

Elsewhere, along a perimeter wall, is Michelson & Morley, a restaurant/faculty club whose interior was designed by Cleveland’s Van Auken Akins Architects. There, interior elements reference and gently diverge from other elements in the building to create a dining venue with what the architects describe in part as “a warm and welcoming ambiance.”

As the Michelson & Morley firm points out on its website, included are varied ceiling heights, colored LED lights, a glass curtain wall between indoor and a wood plank deck that enables outdoor dining. Inside, there is dark ceramic floor tile and attractive upholstered seats to match, with the main furniture vocabulary in a fine, pale wood that, along with the much of the ceilings and walls, echoes the wood of the aforementioned bleachers.

Another key feature: spaces for large events, including formal ones, on the second floor that can be divided into smaller venues with retractable folding partitions — Campbell notes that the automatic partitions are supported by a steel beam so long that it had to be ordered from a Belgian foundry — and glass curtain wall on every side of the building. There is also that large media wall mentioned earlier, which has Cleveland-themed and other images and messages. It’s an interactive aesthetic that provides, among other things, a high-tech “wow factor” for prospective students and their parents. The screen itself fronts a wall that indicates another space within the whole: an elegant lounge with carpet and soft seating facing the screen and completing the ensemble.

Those and other facets together make an iconic architectural statement. Finally, iconic doesn’t get in the way of practical: Take for example, the amount of activity within the center on a daily basis — aside from plenty of traffic, 720 events the first semester and 1,500 the second semester — Campbell points out. Feedback on campus has been favorable, and all told, he adds, the new campus icon “has been heavily used. And I think it achieved the initial goals. I know it did.”

This article originally appeared in the November 2016 issue of College Planning & Management.

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