As students return to a full, in-person campus experience at the University of Denver’s (DU) campus, they will occupy and utilize three large new buildings that have opened gradually over the course of the pandemic. The buildings include a new community commons, a new residence hall for first-year students, and a new career center, all centrally located adjacent to the University’s Campus Green, each opening for occupancy over the last several months.
“Our university developed a major campus masterplan in 2016 under the leadership of my predecessor Dr. Rebecca Chopp, the Denver Advantage plan, and then immediately embarked on building several of the key recommended facilities that were envisioned in that plan,” said Dr. Jeremy Haefner, chancellor at the University of Denver. “What no one envisioned, though, was that these pivotal new campus buildings would open amidst a global pandemic, a time during which our campus was operating under very restricted in-person learning experiences and capacity limitations. We are thrilled to finally see these buildings come to their fullest fruition in the hands of our students, faculty, and staff this semester.”
All three architectural projects were designed as parts of a unified whole, transforming the core of the campus. Designed in an integrated collaboration with DU’s Office of the University Architect, whose leadership and vision for this major campus advancement was established during the 2016 masterplan project conducted with Ayers Saint Gross.
The University of Denver’s new Community Commons welcomes an increasingly diverse student community and brings a critical mass of students and resources to the center of campus—a primary goal of the University’s Strategic Plan. The project funnels and mixes students capturing movement to and from the new first-year housing with a variety of types of spaces for students, faculty, staff and visitors to dine, meet, socialize, study, and make use of supportive services. Food services are strategically located at the heart of the Commons to unite the entire community and the building creates opportunities for sustained encounters between people that are the foundation for meaningful relationships and student success.
Intentional student engagement through a highly participatory process revealed evolving priorities that informed the design. Responsive planning includes a central canyon-like space whose north-facing clerestory provides equitable access to daylight; social stairs along the flow path; easily adaptable loft-like spaces; and operable windows, individual controls, and outdoor terraces that connect to nature and enrich social interactions. High-performance building systems reduce the energy use of the Commons by 49 percent against baseline.
The Dimond Family Residential Village was created as a response to the University of Denver’s vision for a more inclusive campus environment that embraces first-generation students, cultivating retention by building bonds to the University community. The building includes 501 beds earmarked for freshmen, along with campus-serving programs such as honors and campus residential life. The building is designed around nested scales of community, organized into identifiable cohorts that allow students to gradually build relationships and a sense of belonging. The project creates social connections wherever possible, from interior “porches” at room entries, to common areas supporting each pod, to a communal bridge gathering space framing an activity courtyard designed to accommodate gatherings of the full University first-year class of 1,450 students. The building is on target for LEED Gold Certification.
Situated at a key nexus between the campus’s traditional core and its growing urban edge, the new 23,000-square-foot Burwell Center for Career Achievement will be a campus hub focused on student career development, employer engagement and alumni activities. A tower stair serves as a beacon and an executive lounge provides views to the campus, the adjacent city core, and the nearby Rocky Mountains. Designed as a LEED Platinum building, the Center is anticipated to use 70% less energy than comparable university buildings and was built utilizing a sustainably harvested mass timber structure, the first at the University of Denver.
These campus facilities were prioritized from those recommended within the campus master plan to bring timely solutions to critical issues within the global higher education field. From diversity and inclusiveness to student retention and environmental responsibility, each new facility will have a significant impact on the student’s experience at DU and the campus community environment itself.
“Our work in creating an inspired, human-centric built environment is teaching the next generation how to reshape the world with thoughtfulness, grace, and artistry,” said Mo Lotif, owner’s representative, Office of the Vice-Chancellor at the University of Denver. “We are grateful to have worked with such a strong selection of design talent to bring these important new facilities to life for the benefit of our students.”
Photos courtesy of Denver University