Howard Hall Renovation

Minimally modified over the years, most of the 24,000 SF facility was still unchanged in 2013 and in desperate need of modernization. Working within the tight footprint, very low ceiling clearances, a limited budget, and historic preservation considerations, the design team’s renovation has re-established the building as a student destination and has set the standard for future campus renovations.

Design Challenge

The constraints of the existing concrete frame was one of the most significant challenges faced by the design team. The program called for a new HVAC system throughout the building using campus chilled water. Transverse concrete frames located at 20’ on center left only 8’-9” of clear space below. This, combined with floor to floor heights of 11’-1” severely limited system options. To make matters worse, no central corridor existed on the second floor. Working closely with the mechanical engineers, mechanical rooms were relocated to stack floor to floor and enlarged to accommodate required energy recovery units. The new system was designed to consolidate all ductwork and piping in the center of the building. Ductwork was restricted from passing beneath concrete frames with the exceptions of return and fresh air systems. Cartridge-type units were installed in each space and concealed by skirt soffits painted in accent colors. Piping and distribution systems were largely left exposed, allowing for existing 2x4 ceiling grid to be demolished and opening the classrooms and public spaces to cast-in-place concrete joists, greatly increasing the volume of space and daylight penetration. Sound-absorbent panels were installed between the joists to improve acoustical performance. Exposed spiral ducts were installed parallel to the concrete frames as were direct/indirect linear LED fixtures. The spaces vacated by the consolidation of mechanical rooms on the second floor allowed the creation of three transverse lobby spaces which provide visual transparency and connection with the outdoor environment.

Physical Context

This concrete and masonry building exemplified early 1960’s university classroom design through its institutional, functional layout and limited exterior openings. Interior spaces were generally dark with suspended ceilings at 8 feet. As one of the four original buildings of the campus, Howard Hall was located at the heart of the academic core but was a building in which students dreaded attending classes. With new MEP systems chewing up over half of the already limited budget, the design team focused on creating academic and collaboration spaces that students wanted to inhabit. This was accomplished in two ways: 1) Eliminating or consolidating existing spaces to create open space with access to natural light and 2) Removing existing 2x4 acoustical ceilings to maximize spatial volumes and enhance the penetration of natural light into the building. Both of these strategies offered the benefit of connection with the outdoor environment and views of the iconic clock tower. On a more subtle level, the dark grey tint of the existing glazing was eschewed in favor of clear high performance glazing at all new interventions. This substantially increased the visible light transmittance to the interior and the transparency from the exterior, allowing the building to appear more open and approachable while also enhancing views of the landscape and surrounding built elements for occupants.