Miller Hull

Student Success District

University of Arizona, Tuscon, AZ
Through modernizing three existing buildings, and constructing an entirely new one, this project transforms this cluster of buildings into a unified and cohesive District that provides a centralized point of support for the entire student body.
Client University of Arizona
Certifications Bartlett Center: LEED Silver
Size 205,000 SF
Completion 2022

Map

Student success is based on so much more than grades. From physical wellness to mental health to financial stability, a student cannot fully flourish if they are not thriving in all areas of their lives.

Universities around the country recognize this need, and have established tutoring, careers services, wellness, and fitness centers in an effort to provide a comprehensive student experience. None, however, have endeavored to bring all of these services together, thereby creating a single place where all aspects of a students’ life are holistically considered and catered to. None, that is, until the University of Arizona.

For the first time in the United States, a district of this scale is devoted entirely to the success of students not only as scholars, but as human beings.

Prior to this project, the University of Arizona had a number of successful and rapidly growing programs dedicated to providing student support. Based on research, the school found that retention and graduation rates were significantly higher for the students who participated in these programs compared to their peer groups. Research also indicated that connecting with a community was equally important.

However, these programs were scattered across campus in various buildings and in siloed buildings that were difficult to find or felt dark and unwelcoming. Functionally and physically disconnected from one another, the programs within these buildings were hamstrung by a series of band-aid solutions to accommodate evolving programs over the years. The goals of the District were to uplift these spaces through a modern renovation, and to create a physical environment that could house all of the services central to student success and wellbeing on campus.

In order to continue to grow and support a larger percentage of the student body, the University saw the impact that consolidating these resources would bring to the campus community. Mental health would be destigmatized. Wellness, celebrated. First-generation students would be given a roadmap for success. And the University would come together under the umbrella of betterment.

This groundbreaking addition to the university’s urban fabric provides seamless connections and space for student engagement, ultimately creating a single, unified district that broadens the definition of student support by integrating themes of physical and mental wellness to truly address student success. The complex project redefines and revitalizes the Main Library and the Bear Down Gymnasium, reorients the entry to the Science-Engineering Library, and merges them with the new 55,000 SF Bartlett Center for Academic Success to create an interconnected Student Success District.

Capitalizing on its adjacency to both the highly frequented library and the under-used historic Bear Down Gym, the new Bartlett Academic Success Center adds an array of resources to an already popular hub. But because this project was not intended to be a sole building but a district, the three adjacent buildings support the student success mission, as well – the Main Library, with a maker studio, monumental staircase, and tech toolshed; the Bear Down building with a healing garden, fitness area, and career center; and the Science-Engineering Library, with a research and study ecosystem, study area, and computer lab. The Bartlett Academic Success Center itself contains a Think Tank, Strategic Alternative Learning Techniques Center,  and other resources for student engagement and mental health, centering the district with a strong core of dedicated support and care.

Although located at the heart of campus, the buildings’ lacked activity, as their configurations did not allow for much fluidity and connectivity. In fact, if a student tried to meander between the libraries and the gym, they would be required to exit the front door of one building, walk to the main mall, and then enter through the front door of the other building. Additionally, there was no interaction between the gym and two libraries, each existing in a vacuum, facing the quad and prioritizing access to the larger campus rather than to their direct neighbors. The historic gymnasium was also plagued with universal design challenges both internally and externally with poor campus connections.

To create occupiable space between buildings, and to foster a connective flow, previously inward-looking buildings had to expand outward. New entries were thus cut into the existing buildings using thin steel plate portals to “slice” through the facades and establish a language for the new circulation patterns. These connections along with the consistent development of spaces between structures became a common thread, stitching the district together and unifying the student experience. The openness and new passages – articulated by regional plants and foliage – create the opportunity for the outdoor shaded spaces to become rooms, of sorts, inviting those passing through to convene and socialize, or sit quietly to reflect. In this way, these paseos become an extension of the interiors.

Additional design moves, like connecting the different grade floors of the existing buildings, and creating clarity among levels to connect the spaces visually were also implemented to form connection and cohesion among the District buildings.

As for the two libraries in the District, they were outdated, and were thus perpetuating obsolete modes of studying and learning, full of underutilized collections that blocked views, uncomfortable heavy oak furniture, and ACT ceilings that restricted the volume of the space. This project converted the spaces dense with shelving to student collaboration space through the renovation of two floors of the Main Library and three floors of the Science Library. While the upper floors of both buildings remain dedicated to quiet individual study and collections, the ground levels of these buildings are intended to expand the concept of the Library beyond study carrels and book stacks. Reimagining the picture of modern learning, the libraries have become resources for students to study in innovative ways.

The Student Success District is happening in the here and now, but it still hearkens back to the 1920s and 1960s, while also calling forward to the future. The structure of the original field house and brutalist concrete libraries remain, but because the three renovated buildings – along with the new Bartlett Center for Academic Success  –  have been made accessible, transparent, and lively, they now accommodate the University’s present-day functional needs, while also maintaining the flexibility to adapt as trends and pedagogies change in the coming years. As multiple eras of time are represented in the District experience, modern interventions based on human-centered design form a link that connects decades, and honors the lifespan of the University.

A model for other universities, the entire Student Success District – from the individual buildings to their contours – is dedicated to every aspect of a student’s wellbeing, and the factors that determine their progress as they learn, live, and become the best people they can be.

Project Team

Architect & Interior Design: The Miller Hull Partnership, LLP and Poster Mirto McDonald
Design-Build Contractor: Sundt Construction
Civil Engineer: Cypress Civil Development
Structural Engineer: Martin White Griffis
Mechanical, Electrical & Plumbing Engineer: Affiliated Engineers, Inc.
Landscape Architect: Ten Eyck Landscape Architects
Acoustical Consultant: Robert F. Mahoney & Associates
Furniture, Fixtures & Equipment: Andie Zelnio