Auburn University Mell Classroom Building @ RBD Library

Opened in the fall of 2017, Mell Classroom Building and the partial renovation of the adjoining Ralph Brown Draughon Library was envisioned as a transformative educational environment for Auburn University and its 20,000 undergraduate students. Our design team worked closely with the University to make the learning experience in this facility not only effective, but unforgettable as well.

Specially-designed areas outside of each classroom provide easy-access locations for impromptu conversations (‘spark*spaces’). Open areas adjacent to corridors facilitate active brainstorming sessions (‘fireboxes’). Multi-story relaxed learning areas located strategically throughout the building provide open areas for group study and the exchange of ideas and information (‘collaboratories’).

Additionally, glass enclosed study rooms with increased levels of acoustic and visual privacy offer quieter spaces for group work or individual study. Beyond the classroom, the design team created informal learning environments including study rooms, casual café and lounge areas, plus highly-collaborative spaces that encourage an engaged and interactive education culture throughout the building and landscape.

This building is an integral part of the University’s master plan, with its location and design being key to the pedestrian patterns of the campus that will influence campus growth and planning for many years to come.

Design Challenge

The team worked with the University’s ‘Program Requirements Committee’, a group of 24 individuals representing students, faculty and senior University leadership to develop the program, identify the site and develop the design for this facility. This committee developed a ‘Guiding Principle’ that outlined project goals and served as a gauge for success. These goals included: a welcoming classroom building for informal and formal learning, a flexible space with user-friendly features to accommodate many educational approaches, universal access to state-of-the-art technology, as well as contributing and responding to regular assessment. The resulting product is a unique building that serves students by offering a variety of learning and study spaces, letting in abundant natural light and providing a fresh feel bolstered by the juxtaposition of the stately exterior columns of the library with light, natural wood and glass used in the large public atrium. An open, monumental stair encourages healthy habits such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator, and classrooms support different teaching and learning styles that inspire active collaboration and participation, supporting the University’s commitment to engaged active student learning. All components of the building design – the finishes, furnishings, technology, and the design of the physical space itself – work together to promote openness and connectivity, create a warm and welcoming environment, and support the needs of the students and faculty so that learning can happen everywhere.

Physical Context

The Mell Classroom Building took an outdoor plaza space and created a new internal plaza at the heart of a bustling classroom facility, turning this into one of the highest utilized buildings on campus. Since opening in fall 2017, the classroom building has maintained full bookings, and the classrooms are routinely booked for study rooms after hours. The design of the Mell Classroom Building focuses on connections and the creation of spaces to promote and facilitate learning in its many forms. Our team began with the question: Where does learning happen? Learning certainly takes place in the classroom. And here our team worked closely with the Client to develop a variety of classroom types which promote active learning, support collaboration and information sharing, and offer flexibility. Learning also takes place beyond the classroom though, and in this project, equal importance was given to designing the ‘in between’ spaces so that they too would facilitate conversation, inspire creative problem-solving, and respond to the needs of students and faculty to have a range of spaces to meet their needs – be that open, extroverted spaces for group work, quiet, introverted spaces for individual study, or touchdown spaces for social interaction.