Historically and politically speaking, students have often been the loudest and most visible advocates for change. So when the students at the University of Texas in Austin articulated their desire for a dedicated social and cultural center, administrators enlisted the help of Overland Partners to design a new Student Activity Center (SAC) that would respond to the changing learning patterns of today’s students while embracing both state-of-the-art technology and the latest sustainable design strategies.
In keeping with priorities expressed by students during a series of interactive workshops, the SAC is focused on activity spaces, including a 5,000-square-foot ballroom, a 500-seat auditorium, a black box theater, rehearsal space, a food court, 12 private meeting rooms, student organization offices, assembly space and outdoor gathering areas. Ample study lounges and informal gathering spots are scattered throughout the facility.
Given that the building is open 24 hours per day, meeting LEED requirements proved to be a challenge. But through thoughtful design decisions, Overland Partners was able to improve the baseline building performance rating by 26 percent; reduce potable landscape water use by 58 percent; and create quality views through 90 percent of the occupied space. Keeping the state’s abundant sunshine in mind, Overland carefully chose materials to reduce the solar impact and absorption of the building as a whole, thereby lowering the need for electric usage within the building’s interior. Roof gardens further reduce the heat island effect and create engaging outdoor gathering spaces.
“By minimizing adverse environmental impacts and maximizing open, shaded space on the site; reducing water use; using regional and recycled content materials; optimizing energy performance of the enclosure and operating systems; and creating a healthy interior environment with plentiful daylight, views and connections to the outdoors, the Student Activity Center sets a new direction for the University of Texas at Austin campus,” says Michele Stedman, AIA, LEED AP and project architect at Overland Partners.