Student Portal Complex

Mesa Community College: Mesa, AZ

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The Student Portal Complex project is comprised of six existing building renovations, two new building constructions, and a series of outdoor campus improvements. The goals of the project includes bringing together dispersed student services into one identifiable place, creating a new campus entry for visitors and new students, and establishing outdoor areas that foster collaboration amongst the campus population.

Before the implementation of the project goals, the opaqueness of the 1960s battered masonry walls lacked the spatial transparency of today’s socially connected and highly collaborative campus life. Adding to the challenge of bringing about a cohesive and identifiable social place, the budgetary constraints required all buildings to remain intact–as much as possible. The complexity of the project was compounded by the need for existing student services to remain operational throughout the construction, requiring phasing strategy/implementation evaluation and the orchestration of temporary student service relocations. In addition to the internal campus improvements, a large parking lot located at the eastern edge of campus was designated to become the new entry point for students enrolling for their first college class.

The design response to the challenges of the existing campus and the extent of impact on campus life came about from an unlikely source.  Within the sparsely vegetated courtyard formed by the accumulation of buildings over decades, the new Lounge emerged to become the social hub for campus life with direct connection to all student services. In a conscious effort to maintain the historical continuity of the masonry walls, the perimeter of the Lounge consists of perforated metal fins that never directly engage the existing masonry walls, but instead provide a new layer that simultaneously allows slivers of the surrounding buildings to inform the spatial reading as well as protect the interior from the intensity of Sonoran sunlight; all the while, the gentle swell of the curved ceiling adds volume the lightness of the roof hovering over the previously disused courtyard.

Echoing the lightness of the Lounge roof form, the new Enrollment Center similarly creates space below, the difference being, the unobstructed and horizontal persistence of a parking lot the size of a football stadium. Here, the unity was not so much about buildings within the campus, but rather the unity of an entire campus as a representation of the portal through which the promise of greater erudition awaits.  The introduction of a new landscape which include a drop-off/pick-up zone and land area dedicated to framing the new Enrollment center, transforms the banality of the relentless parking lot into a place with a clear focus and attention. Visitor and students are encouraged by the belly of the tapered roof form to transition from the shaded outdoor to the cool interior where a brilliant line of orange delineates the edge where sky begins.  Emanating from the Enrollment Center, new paths, landscapes, and gathering places trace the campus walks to connect to surrounding buildings and outdoor quads.