Gwathmey Siegel & Associates Architects (GSAA) have just finished work on a new Student Center for Cleveland State University in downtown Cleveland. Working with firm Braun & Steidl Architects, GSAA has designed a refreshingly contemporary structure that gives a new sense of place to the university-and reconnects the university to the city of Cleveland.
Marking the start of the second phase of CSU's master plan to reorient its campus, the 138,000-square-foot center enhances the campus' urban profile. Fronting on Euclid Avenue, downtown's main commercial thoroughfare, GSAA's center functions as a public gateway, creating an open link with the surrounding city while offering a wide range of services to students and faculty.
"Our interactions with the CSU staff, administrators, and student representatives was key to formulating our approach-and our dialogue with the local community really enriched the design," said Joe Ruocco, GSAA Associate Partner and architect of the project.
The new facility is dedicated to student activity space, dining and food service, retail and meeting rooms, becoming the focus of community life for the university. At the same time, the new center engages and enlivens its downtown surroundings: visitors entering from the Euclid Avenue side are greeted with verdant lawns and a broad entryway that slopes gently from the street front, a subtle, welcoming touch that also facilitates access for the disabled.
"We think of a student center as the 'living room' of a campus," said GSAA principal Robert Siegel. All the functions Gwathmey Siegel included in the building envelope-bookstore, dining, lounge, computer access, offices for student activities and conference meeting spaces-are housed on three stories surrounding a central atrium. The Euclid Avenue main entry leads directly into this sky-lit circulation and activity space, which also connects with campus pedestrian bridges, the main plaza, and below grade parking behind and beneath the center.
A simple, restrained palate of materials responds to the building's urban context and expresses its functional components. The central block containing the atrium and interlink from street to campus is articulated in granite; the flanking walls and windows are clad in brick and aluminum respectively. Skybridges connect the center to the surrounding academic building, giving the building an additional dose of visual dynamism.
The opening of the CSU Student Center in Fall 2010 coincides with the completion of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority's Euclid Corridor Transportation Project. That project, which places a rail stop just in front of the new building's entry plaza, will complete the process of weaving the CSU Student Center into the urban fabric of a revitalized downtown Cleveland.