Guest Column - March 2012
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Design Corner

Driven by Demographics
Student Activity Center Design Must Consider All Constituencies

By Brian Tibbs

Student Input

This project was far from a top-down affair. The university administration was determined that students have a say, and for that reason student representatives were present at every planning meeting.

One resulting change to initial designs came at the insistence of one student representative, who argued convincingly for more privacy within the design of student government offices. In the end, students will be the users; it made sense that, when possible, we would accommodate student suggestions.

Demographic Considerations

Despite the building's emphasis on open spaces, demographic considerations led to another area with deliberate privacy.

About 70 percent of the student body is female. While the new student activity center needed to appeal to both male and female students, it was important that it not be seen as "just for jocks."

In response, the new student center has been designed with dance and aerobics rooms on the upper level of the fitness area to be less well seen than other areas. The goal was to create a space where women could exercise without feeling self-conscious.

As a historically black university, the campus's predominantly African-American population also was a consideration in the design. Fraternity and sorority life is important at WSSU, and events such as dances and step shows are a vibrant part of Greek life. The ballroom is designed to accommodate performances and other large events.

Finally, the university is addressing some of the health challenges of its students. While the fitness areas are intended to promote healthy lifestyles, the building will also be equipped with larger, more robust furniture and chairs to make the space more comfortable for large users.

Sustainable Spaces

One of the project's goals was to create the feel of wide open spaces in a "green" environment. Upon entering the building, visitors will be greeted with an expansive openness that allows them to see immediately where they are going, whether to the gymnasium or the student government offices. This is accomplished both with glass and open air access.

While the university does not intend at the moment to apply for LEED certification, the building would qualify. Some of the sustainable aspects of the center include the use of glass to maximize radiant heat in winter and keep temperatures moderate in the summer. The center is being built with all recycled, durable materials that were chosen from suppliers near Winston-Salem.

Efficient lighting and a heating and air conditioning system that meets American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers sustainability standards also contribute to the building's green functionality.

Brian Tibbs is project manager and partner with Moody Nolan, with experience in a variety of building types, including small university and institutional renovations, as well as large campus and municipal projects. For more information, visit