Administrators at Monroe College, based in New Rochelle, NY, knew they had a winning solution last fall when their new Academic Center, designed by Doban Architecture and Think Fabricate, opened to the student body. The college community immediately embraced the space and it became a bustling hub of activity from morning to night. Now the college has a prestigious award of recognition for this innovative learning center.
Brooklyn-based, Doban Architecture and its affiliated multi-disciplinary design studio, Think Fabricate, have just received an "Outstanding Design" award in the 2011 American School & University (AS&U) Educational Interiors Showcase for the new Monroe College Academic Center. The AS&U jury, composed of education and architectural professionals from across the country, meets annually to judge exceptional school and university interiors, and honor the most creative learning environments. This is the second AS&U Award for Doban Architecture and Monroe College as the school's Culinary Arts Center was recognized in 2008.
The small but highly programmed and custom-detailed Academic Center, with locally fabricated furnishings, was a natural winner. The 2,360 square foot Center features a clean modern aesthetic, a technology-rich system and a wide range of inviting study nooks located alongside faculty offices to give students easy access to their professors and the Academic Dean.
Doban Architecture's long-standing history with the college, coupled with Think Fabricate's product design and fabrication skills, made the team a perfect fit for the project. Doban has been the driving architectural design force for Monroe College since 2002, working on dozens of projects on the campus, from master planning to the design of new facilities such as the Culinary Arts Center. In addition to Monroe College, the firm has an impressive portfolio of educational and commercial projects in New Rochelle, including an award-winning five-building project on Main Street intended as a model for preservation and revitalization of historic properties.
"It is important that all of our projects have a welcoming environment so that students and faculty feel inspired about education," commented Marc Jerome, Monroe's Executive Vice President. "This center is a unique asset to our campus that conveys all of the right messages about active participation in learning."
"Our combined capabilities in architecture and furniture design enabled us to tailor a solution and craft it in such a way that it meets the programmatic requirements and creates the right vibe within a small and challenging space," Firm Principal Susan Doban added. "We are thrilled that the Academic Center has been honored by American College and University."
With no central quadrangle on campus and many adult learners attending class in the evenings, Monroe College wanted to establish a welcoming interactive learning center that was open to students throughout the day. The college wished to place faculty and administrators front and center so that students who needed academic support and advising could easily find them and meet on a regular basis. They also wanted a variety of environments conducive to individual learning styles, different teaching approaches, and varied subject matter.
Furnishings for collaborative learning of varying types were specially designed to support the center's purpose. All of the custom furniture elements in the project were co-designed by Doban Architecture and Think Fabricate and were locally made in Think Fabricate's Brooklyn fabrication facility. The team designed "two-on-one" computer tutoring stations that blend traditional "white board learning" with an approach only possible through technology. Two students work with a teacher at an angled table, using their own keyboard yet all wired to a single, wall-mounted monitor for collaborative viewing and discussion. A sliding white board easily passes in front of the monitor when needed for solving math problems with a marker in hand.
Prefabricated "one-on-one" tutoring stations - that double as faculty offices - with a built-in work surface and integral white board wall were also designed to create a private setting for focused tutoring sessions. Window locations and sizes vary from module to module but are all painted a deep plum color, giving the composition a playful, inviting aspect. The team also crafted adjunct facility workstations, a custom bench with built-in bookshelves and collaboration tables designed for group interaction.
The firm established a unifying "facade" for the Academic Center in saturated color, facing a major circulation corridor right off the main corridor of the campus's original building on Main Street. The center is also visible through newly created window openings, which feature glass in a gradient of transparencies. Dark colors were used to distinguish the center from the rest of the hallway and a new security desk and reception desk were designed to further establish the unique character of the facility.
Consideration for the environment is important for Doban Architecture and Think Fabricate, in all of its projects and products. The prefabricated wall systems minimize disruption to the project sites during construction. In keeping with the firms' approach to numerous renovation projects, existing materials were kept in place wherever feasible, and new elements designed to respond to the existing.
The annual American School & University Educational Interiors Showcase competition honors education interiors excellence. This year, winning projects will be profiled in the August issue of American School & University.