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A Facelift

Peter Johnston Architects Gives Raubinger Hall at William Paterson University a lecture in seating and finishes.

06/21/2012 By Elianne Halbersberg

Raubinger Hall, William Paterson University Raubinger Hall, William Paterson University

If you have ever attended a lecture, chances are that you know or remember how uncomfortable the seating was during your stay. No matter how engaging the subject or the speaker, not long after the presentation began, your lower body became numb from being stuck in the upright-and-locked position. Chances are you were trapped behind a small desktop/chair combination or on a bench with no legroom or space to move.

William Paterson University, in Wayne, New Jersey, is working to correct this problem. Peter Johnston Architect recently designed two lecture halls and a lobby space inside Raubinger Hall to make class time more pleasant from both physical and aesthetic perspectives.

The lecture halls, located on top of each other, measure 1200 square feet and seat 81 students each. As lecture halls go, they were old, dismal and equipped with pre-molded plastic chairs — not conducive to a learning environment. The firm’s mission was to make the rooms more comfortable, upgrade the color schemes and develop environments that would enhance the learning experience.

The design process focused on creating a functional interior. Flexible blue swingaway seating, with upholstered backs and polymer base, and soft-gray benching tables, both by Sedia Systems, replaced the plastic chairs with mounted tablets. The continuous tabletops are 14 inches wide, and the chairs are individually attached to a series of posts with the seats on swing arms. Students now have more aisle space to enter and exit the chairs, and the combination of plastic and upholstery makes for better maintenance. “We really took a look at user comfort,” says Peter Johnston, Owner, PJA, about the choice of new furnishings.

Sustainability came into play as well. The seat backs are Greenguard certified. Some of the integrated fluorescent lighting operates on dimmers. All paints and adhesives are low VOC, and the acoustical ceiling tiles contain 80 percent recycled content. The lecture room floors are Smart-certified, natural, seamless linoleum, which allows for easy cleaning and durability under heavy foot traffic and possible food and beverage spills. “Linoleum has a track record because it’s easy to clean,” says Johnston. “With tile, no matter what you do, it looks dirty because of the crevices. This is much cleaner, dirt doesn’t get into the joints, and it’s easy to maintain. Every material we used had to pass a high maintenance test, without a doubt.”

The use of color theory determined the choices of blue upholstery, shades of gray and orange on the walls and a combination of both in the linoleum. In an effort to move away from traditional lecture hall monochromatic walls, “We wanted colors that would make the atmosphere enjoyable,” says Johnston. “There have been studies that certain colors engage the mind a bit more and make people a bit more alert and happier to be in the space, and therefore more interested in learning.”

Raubinger Hall houses the two lecture rooms, the provost office, administrative offices and mechanical areas. The lobby and entrance were also quite dismal, says Johnston. “This is a lobby to a major building and there was no focal point. The flooring was a hodgepodge of blue stone and some VCT, and then they had some painted brick.” The design team extended the entry for accessibility, redid all of the floor finishes, and created a feature wall as a focal point. “We basically designed this abstract wall, and we incorporated signage near the elevators for way-finding,” says Johnston. “It’s much more organized and it gives a statement as you enter the building.”

A new color scheme was also introduced: varying shades of gray and burnished red for both the walls and floors. “We looked at colors that we felt would brighten the space, since there’s not a lot of natural light coming in,” says Johnston. “We wanted colors that are known to promote positive mood and positive environment.”

The Raubinger Hall lobby and lecture rooms are basic spaces that didn’t require a lot of planning. Johnston describes them as a finished project with a makeover of finishes, rather than one that required shaping of spaces. “It was more of a refinishing on our part,” he says. “We were exploring materials, and that’s different from creating space, but the project, no matter the size, is the challenge that you make it.”