Giving students $3 million dollars of university money to make campus a more comfortable place outside of the classroom should be enough to make any administrator worried, but not at the University of Calgary.
“I wasn’t worried at all, but I did have some friends who were,” U of C president Dr. Harvey Weingarten joked at the unveiling of the newly-renovated Administration atrium. The atrium is one of the final spaces in the Take Your Place project, which aimed to renovate or build 40 spaces around campus in honour of the university’s 40th anniversary.
University staff and students gathered in the atrium–which now boasts double the seating of the previous design–to celebrate the final TYP project grand opening Fri., March 30. Sheila O’Brien, special advisor to the president on student affairs, bid goodbye to the project, which cost $3 million and was designed by students in the faculty of environmental design (EVDS).
“It’s wonderful,” said O’Brien, noting of the $3 million, $2 million came from private donors, with the university contributing $1 million. “It’s a huge sense of accomplishment and a sense of pride that we actually pulled this off.”
O’Brien said the inspiration for TYP came after a conversation with a student who went to his car between classes because there were few places on campus to sit or study. Since the grand opening of the first space in April 2006, the project has renovated 7,500 square metres of space, including the Social Science corridor, traditional residence lounges and the Women’s Resource Centre.
Not all students share the same positive sentiment as administra-tion. The kinesiology atrium redesign, in particular, is now referred to as the “seal habitat” after the padded tile pit seating was replaced with grey Styrofoam that is angular, hard and rough.
“I’ve heard it described as the Fortress of Solitude,” said Kirsten Varsek, a second-year sociology student who uses the space almost daily. “It’s nice that more people can sit here, but it’s even more uncomfortable.”
The SU-sponsored Social Sciences corridor has also come under fire for its white Ikea-esque design, which gets dirty quickly and has actually reduced seating.
“I like the design of the one in social sciences, but it seems like less people can sit there and the tall stools are never where you want them,” commented Varsek.
Administration maintains that besides the immediate benefit of more space for students to study or just relax between classes, the project gave 18 EVDS students hands-on design experience.
“It’s a great opportunity to take that next step that usually you’d do when you’re out working,” said EVDS student Joel Tobman, who co-designed the Administration atrium while completing his master’s thesis. “You know it’s going to be hard, but it’s difficult when you throw in the considerations of budget and time. You don’t want to sacrifice the concept just for time or for money.”
Tobman said original architectural renderings of the Administration building, which was one of the first two buildings on the U of C campus 40 years ago, provided inspiration for the atrium renovation.
“The story of this space starts with [Tyler Lownhardt] and I traveling to the archives to look at the original drawings of this building,” said Tobman. “The initial modern design was envisioned as the two buildings sat on pedestals on the prairie. It was beautiful in its formality, but rigorous and difficult to engage.”
The new atrium design features a raised seating area, comfortable wicker seating and increased table space.