To appeal to business students, most of whom are working full time and attending school at night, Walsh College needed to adopt a presence akin to a sophisticated workplace. The formerly nondescript business school has been reconceived to be a draw for busy professionals.
Located in Troy, Michigan, a sprawling suburb 17 miles northwest of downtown Detroit, Walsh College is a 3,700-student school that offers undergraduate and graduate business programs. Since 1969, the school’s facilities had expanded with a series of pedestrian single-story structures. Walsh College retained Chicago-based Valerio Dewalt Train Associates (VDTA) in 2006 to prepare a master plan and initiate a series of cohesive additions and renovations that have since transformed the facility. VDTA completed the project with nearly 30,000 square feet of new construction on two floors and an additional 30,000 square feet of renovations in the final phase.
An open-door policy
VDTA Founding Partner Joseph Valerio, FAIA, credits the school’s two rather progressive leaders, Presidents Keith Pretty and Stephanie Bergeron, with providing valuable leadership and input. Initially, Pretty tasked the designers with “creating an environment for a forward-thinking corporation in America,” according to Valerio. And when Bergeron took the reins in 2007, she asked VDTA to “change how the staff works—put them front and center to the students.”
“Bergeron suggested that no one should have a private office,” says Valerio, who also noted that the president challenged his firm to find another college or university that had removed all fully enclosed offices. VDTA’s research discovered that, while some institutions of higher education had experimented with this now-typical corporate arrangement, no academic institution had done it across the board.
Placing all of Walsh College’s 120 faculty and staff members into open offices allows students direct access to teachers—a key feature when business is the sole subject on the curriculum. And eliminating traditional closed offices freed more square footage for academic uses. Even the top administrators, including the president, now have open workstations rather than fully enclosed offices, but with a bit of privacy on the second floor. There, shared with staff, administrators enjoy a fitness center and access to a green roof with an outdoor deck.
Space for student networking and study was also crucial. “The guy sitting next to you in class might be your next customer or your next boss,” Walsh College Assistant Vice President, Facilities and Auxiliary Services Chris Stout says. Valerio recalls a truly depressing past scenario. “People would sit in their cars before classes,” Valerio says. “And they would go to their cars between classes.” Now, the school has many places to sit, including alcoves, dedicated study rooms, and a cafe.
The building previously had numerous corridors with confusing turns. VDTA’s initial master plan established two parallel east-west corridors that access every area of the school. These internal connectors establish three zones. The south pavilion houses the Success Center—a classroom for teaching communications skills, which extends out to a patio area facing the street. The student lounge is in the middle pavilion. And the welcome center’s public entrance is within the north pavilion. From the exterior, the pavilion facades are defined with floor-to-ceiling glass curtain walls, canted masonry, and sloping metal panels. The nighttime streetscape is important, with open interiors appearing bright, vibrant, and active after dark when most students are present.
Corporate, but cool
VDTA Principal-in-Charge Christine McGrath Breuer, AIA, employed strong, bold gestures throughout the interior while providing many non-traditional sitting spaces for both formal and informal collaborative study outside of the classroom. Linear patterned carpeting runs counter to the direction of the east-west paths, with the same pattern appearing throughout the entire complex. But the pattern’s color receives varying gradients that help define specific places. The designers emphasized the circulation paths with linear wooden slat ceilings that mark the direction of travel. Lower ceilings help to delineate specific locales, such as the lounge and meeting areas. “We chose to limit materials and use them consistently,” Breuer says.
VDTA’s in-house Media Objectives Studio, involved with the project from its inception, developed custom graphics and branding. Tailored to specific uses, graphics include varied patterns across interior glass partitions providing different levels of opacity.
Walsh students now enjoy contemporary interior environments that are typically found in the most advanced business workplaces. As corporations are thinking more like college campuses, this college was designed to appear more like a business. “We’re all business; there are no foosball tables,” Stout says. “It’s cool, but it’s corporate.”
who Architect: Valerio Dewalt Train Associates. Project team: Joe Valerio; Christine McGrath Breuer; Jennifer Cooper; Arris Finkbeiner; Michael Kirschner; Stephen Killion; Crystal Adams. Environmental graphics: Media Objectives at Valerio Dewalt Train Associates. Contractor: Frank Rewold and Son. Engineering: Robert Darvas Associates (structural); Strategic Engineering Solutions (MEP/FP); Nowak & Fraus (civil). Lighting: Hugh Lighting Design. Landscape: Beckett & Raeder. Acoustician: Kirkegaard Associates. Audiovisual engineer: Sound Planning Communications. Specification writer: ArchiTech Cosulting. Security consultant: Wiltec Technologies. Cost estimating: Kirk Value Planners.
what Wallcoverings: Maharam. Paint: Benjamin Moore; Idea Paint. Laminate: Wilsonart; Formica; Pionite. Walls: USG; Belden Brick; Vetter Stone; Dorma. Flooring: Plyboo; Johnsonite; Milliken. Ceilings: USG; Decoustics; Hunter Douglas. Lighting: Gotham; Pinncale; LumeLex; Lithonia; Focal Point; Astra; Artemide; Eureka; Pinnacle; Eureka; Vode; Elliptipar; Bega; Iguzzini. Hardware: Assa Abloy; Corbin Russwin; Rockwood. Doors: Raco; Algoma; Kawneer. Glass: Guardian SunGuard. Decorative glass panels/partitions: Peterson Glass Company. Window treatments: MechoSystems. Workstations: Steelcase. Seating: Steelcase; Stylex; Davis; Coalesse; Aracdia; Teknion. Upholstery: Steelcase; Designtex; Maharam; Sina; Luna; BuzziSpace. Tables: Coalesse; Primeway; Davis; Bernhardt; Steelcase. Storage: Steelcase. Woodworking: MOD Interiors.