Transit’s Next Step: The Multi-Modal Facility

In my last post, I discussed a renewed focus on train station design, which can help communities create a focal point and hopefully, a new found interest in their downtowns. However, we have seen some municipalities that want to take this a step further in order to spark a more significant downtown revitalization. To do this, they need to go beyond the stand-alone train station, and incorporate a complete Multi-Modal Facility.

Many existing cities find that, over the years, their downtowns have been neglected. With the large shopping malls and related dining and entertainment venues that have followed, the original center of activity, the downtown, has often become a place of empty storefronts and minimal activity. That, however, is changing as these municipalities are rediscovering the value that a vibrant and active downtown can have on their entire community.

Hidden behind the vacant warehouse and neglected lot may be the seeds for a community cornerstone: the Multi-Modal Facility, which adds retail, hospitality, entertainment, and parking to the transit mix. This entices people back to and resuscitates forgotten urban areas.

Renovations will transform an abandoned six-story warehouse into a transportation hub anticipated to spark a renewal in Moline’s (Illinois) downtown business district.

Renovations will transform an abandoned six-story warehouse into a transportation hub anticipated to spark a renewal in Moline’s (Illinois) downtown business district.

Multi-Modal Facilities accommodate a variety of commuters: rail, bus, automobile, bicycle, and pedestrian. They integrate into mixed-use developments to create vibrant hubs that encourage alternative transportation. Also, they encourage commuters and residents to spend more time downtown.

The Quad Cities technically consists of two Iowa cities and two Illinois cities, but actually encompasses other surrounding communities. A new project will convert the first floor of a vacant six-story building into a transportation hub in Moline (IL), one of the Quad Cities. Stakeholders anticipate that the Multi-Modal Facility, part of a full-block redevelopment, will not only kick off a revitalization of downtown Moline, but will also reestablish passenger rail service from Chicago to the Quad Cities.

A new Multi-Modal Transportation Center slated for downtown Rockford, Illinois started with a series of public input meetings.

A new Multi-Modal Transportation Center slated for downtown Rockford, Illinois started with a series of public input meetings.

Multi-Modal Facility projects also offer a great opportunity to build excitement by bringing community members into the planning process. For instance, community engagement sessions fueled the plan for the City of Rockford’s Multi-Modal Transportation Center now under design. Those who attended asked questions to the architects, presented challenges, and offered their thoughts on what should be included in the facility, as well as the preferred architectural style.  The resulting facility will represent the residents of Rockford well.


Explore Before You Build: The Space Utilization Study

By Jeffrey Sronkoski and Michael Lundeen

Facility costs are rising. Capital funding is scarce. What can higher education institutions do?

Most colleges and universities know that their facilities have tremendous value. They also know it costs much more to build new than to remodel.

More than ever before, institutional leaders are exploring every option to maximize reuse of their existing facilities. One of the more valuable tools that assists in making this happen is the Space Utilization Study.

Space Utilization Studies collect and analyze room use data, then compare it to that at other institutions. This allows institutions to make decisions about how to reuse existing space and reduce the need for new space.

Space Utilization Studies collect and analyze room use data, then compare it to that at other institutions. This allows institutions to make decisions about how to reuse existing space and reduce the need for new space.

Data Tells All: The Space Utilization Study
How is a college using its space? Are some rooms packed while others are half empty? How does a Tuesday morning compare with a Friday afternoon? These are just a few of the questions that the Space Utilization Study explores. The study helps institutions evaluate how much space can be repurposed. It also helps them minimize the amount of new space needed. The result is significant savings in capital costs.

A Space Utilization Study including over 10,000 lines of scheduling data helped Joliet Junior College identify space efficiencies and set the tone for a sustainable master plan.

A Space Utilization Study including over 10,000 lines of scheduling data helped Joliet Junior College identify space efficiencies and set the tone for a sustainable master plan.

Several years ago, Joliet Junior College needed to respond an anticipated major population increase. But before the board of trustees decided on adding any new buildings, its members wanted to know how well the college was using the buildings it already had in operation. As part of a comprehensive master plan, a Space Utilization Study was completed. It analyzed usage of over 150 rooms, then compared square footage per student and parking per student data to eight of its college peer institutions. The findings helped drive and justify the college’s master plan.

Space Utilization Studies also spark a variety of questions that planners and administrators can explore. For instance, a study that we did revealed that the client had poor utilization in a lecture room. When questioned, faculty said that nobody wanted to use the room because it had subpar sound isolation from the adjacent lecture space.

The Space Utilization Study might show that a $25 million new science facility isn’t needed just yet. It might reveal that the classrooms are in dire need of renovations, or it could show that some departments need to be expanded. No matter what its findings, the Space Utilization Study will point the way to the most cost-effective use of facilities.


A Balancing Act: Health Care Architect Gets a Patient’s Perspective

Casey Frankiewicz, Legat’s director of healthcare, reflects on lessons learned from his hip replacement surgery.

Architects and designers, constantly striving to spec the right furnishings or pinpoint the perfect color scheme, often believe they have the patient’s perspective in the forefront. However, we naturally view design decisions through the lens of health. Now that I’ve experienced hip replacement surgery, I’ve been enlightened.

A physical therapy addition at The Tillers (Oswego, Illinois) displays the campus’s natural highlights.

A physical therapy addition at The Tillers (Oswego, Illinois) displays the campus’s natural highlights.

My recovery stay occurred in a patient room that was quite simple: regular geometry, a neutral color palette, indistinctive artwork, recessive door treatment, and an uninterrupted and clutter-free white drywall ceiling. The furnishings were modest. There was an analog clock, a 20-inch by 30-inch markerboard (manually updated by caregivers throughout the day), and a wall-mounted flat panel TV.

To my surprise, the plainness was comforting. It also served as a kind of framework for what most elevated my spirit and ultimately, promoted my recovery: the four-foot divided-light window that displayed a mature grove. Waking with the sunrise and looking out on those trees made for a serene and reflective experience. Those views, heightened by an occasional light rain, were what I really needed to recover effectively.

The physical therapy space continued the theme of pleasant views of nature. During my three-day stay, I didn’t even turn on the T.V. I learned that for me, recovery is all about a low-tech, stress-free environment.

The human connection also played an important role. Conversation with other patients facing the same trials truly can help with the unknowns during recovery.

As I return to the drawing board, I’ll definitely be raising the priority on connections with outdoors, supporting human interaction, and design influences that reduce anxiety.

But Be Aware: “One Size Does Not Fit All”
I liken it to the way that people prefer to vacation. On one end of the spectrum, you have the folks who like to be active every minute of every day. There is always something to see, hear, experience. They don’t want to miss a thing. Then there are those who are content lying on a beach and reading a good book. Each comes away satisfied with his or her time spent.

Of course, these are extremes, but I bring them up to create a comparison with the hospital experience. My perspective on my recovery is a subjective one.

Many would prefer to recover on the 25th floor with panoramic city views. Others will want a room that’s more exciting, more conducive to socialization and activity. Many will focus on the aesthetics of a space . . . its interesting geometries and color scheme.

Going forth, I’ll also be focused on balance, whether it’s standing on one foot while tossing and catching a ball, or designing the next patient room.


Material Explorations: Metal Panels

From a sustainable standpoint, metal panels have a long recycling lifespan, plus they have strong energy saving capabilities. The increasingly popular rain screens minimize wasted energy at the envelope, allow easy installation, and create a high-tech image.

The Rosalind Franklin University Centennial Learning Center’s white metal panel façade, inspired by DNA sequencing, honors the institution’s namesake.

The Rosalind Franklin University Centennial Learning Center’s white metal panel façade, inspired by DNA sequencing, honors the institution’s namesake.

Aesthetically, metal cladding systems are virtually unmatched in their ability to convey a contemporary appearance, bolstered by their flexibility in terms of the shadow line and its visual effect. The systems are easy to bend in and out, and manufacturers offer a vast assortment of colors including options for customization. Metal panels can also be used as a colorful contrast to enliven the appearance of more traditional materials.

Rosalind Franklin University’s Rothstein Warden Centennial Learning Center demonstrates the flexibility of metal cladding (in this case, metal insulated composite wall panel with prefinished steel face and liner). DNA sequencing inspired the vertical window slots along the west façade. This enables the design to reflect the legacy of the university’s namesake, Dr. Rosalind Franklin, a central figure in the discovery of the structure of DNA. The aluminum panels have high R-values and span ten to twenty feet between the horizontal structural supports. They required no interior finish material.

The flexible nature of metal enables designers to reflect facilities’ programmatic offerings. Additionally, metal systems often allow contractors to streamline construction.


The Essentials of Early Learning Center Design – Part Three (Encourage Interaction)

The next installment in my series on the essentials of early learning center design has to do with children’s desire to connect with their peers. Thus, part of the designer’s challenge is to create a space that furthers the early learner’s natural movement toward interaction (and play).

This preliminary concept for a private school shows the potential for a floor plan to promote a flexible environment that encourages interaction. Teachers can reconfigure dividers to create eight individual classrooms, four expanded spaces, two larger teaching zones, and one large multiuse space.

This preliminary concept for a private school shows the potential for a floor plan to promote a flexible environment that encourages interaction. Teachers can reconfigure dividers to create eight individual classrooms, four expanded spaces, two larger teaching zones, and one large multiuse space.

In the traditional classroom, children sit in rows and listen. That’s not very effective anymore. The new early learning center is a place of discovery where students learn and grow together.

A flexible floor plan allows the space to shift from a traditional layout to a completely open space with barrier-free interaction. This “learning habitat” also enables various arrangements between those extremes. The example above, customized to three- to five-year-olds, inspires learning prior to the formalization of the educational environment. The open area gives young learners more opportunities for movement and new kinds of interaction.

Movable partitions with a translucent film give students a hint at activities in neighboring spaces, but they’re not clear enough to be distracting.

Movable partitions with a translucent film give students a hint at activities in neighboring spaces, but they’re not clear enough to be distracting.

The proposed movable partitions in the above concept enhance the sense of community within the early learning center. They enable students to see movement in other rooms. However, the translucent film on the partitions blurs views enough so students don’t lose focus. When teachers want to expand space, they simply move the partitions. This gives the youngest learners a sense of belonging, whether it’s to a smaller group or part of a larger community.

Read my early learning center design posts on indoor/outdoor connectivity and inspiring curiosity.


PreK-12 Think Thank Explores Future of Educational Environments

Think Tank BLog Banner-01

How can educators and facility designers join forces to build change for schools’ ultimate beneficiary: the student?

It was with this question in mind that educational visionaries gathered at Legat Architects’ PreK-12 Think Tank yesterday afternoon. DIRTT’s penthouse Green Learning Center overlooking the Chicago River set the tone as participants discussed the future of educational environments.

Over 75 K-12 educational visionaries from many different fields converged at DIRTT’s Green Learning Center to participate in Legat’s PreK-12 Think Tank.

Over 75 K-12 educational visionaries from many different fields converged at DIRTT’s Green Learning Center to participate in Legat’s PreK-12 Think Tank.

Speakers including educators, architects, and interior designers shared their observations about what’s in store for tomorrow’s schools. There was a great deal of vibrant discussion and debate. High school teachers and tech specialists in rolling desks sat beside architects and engineers in bean bag chairs and talked about how to get parents and community members more involved in school settings.

Professors, elementary school teachers, buildings and grounds personnel, construction professionals, and interior designers sat at high-top tables and debated the influence of curriculum on settings and vice versa.

Breakout sessions brought together different viewpoints to discuss a variety of topics.

Breakout sessions brought together different viewpoints to discuss a variety of topics.

The conference focused on three themes that impact the future of education: adaptability, sustainability, and diversity. The following speakers delivered PechaKucha style presentations:

  • Dr. David Moyer (Superintendent, Elmhurst Community Unit School District 205) revealed lessons learned from his experience leading the community-inspired new Hamilton Elementary School with student achievement at its core.
  • Patrick Brosnan (President/CEO, Legat Architects) discussed how educators and architects can work together to create opportunities for leadership and a “culture of continuous change.”
  • Betsy Maddox (Educational Specialist, DIRTT) introduced some of the construction stresses that schools face and how customized prefabricated interior environments can be easily reconfigured to adapt to teaching needs, curricular changes, and evolving technology.
  • Vuk Vujovic (Director of Sustainable Design, Legat Architects) shared some of the ways that schools are pushing the envelope with cost-effective strategies that promote energy efficiency, environmental respect, and even healthy eating.
  • Andrea Cooper’s (Sustainability Consultant, WMA Engineering) summary of the seven Petals of the Living Building Challenge covered everything from bridging the gap between humans and nature to reducing the environmental impact of building materials.
  • Monique Taylor (Interior Designer, Legat Architects) navigated some of the obstacles that educational designers face when it comes to choosing the healthiest possible materials and furnishings.
  • Melissa Ward (Early Childhood Coordinator, Community Consolidated School District 59) offered tips based on her experience with CCSD 59’s new Early Learning Center, which brings together the district’s youngest students in a place that encourages collaboration and problem-solving.
  • Lauren Peterson (Project Associate, Legat Architects) analyzed the nine Learning Styles and how schools can literally and figuratively “take down the walls” to create environments that respect each style.
  • Dina Sorensen (Design Research Associate, VMDO Architects) wrapped up the evening with an inspiring presentation that encouraged everyone to “search beyond the edges of architecture” and aim for “that fragile moment when a child opts into a space.”

After each session, participants broke into smaller groups to discuss the implications of the content and present questions and thoughts.

Chicago’s skyline set the backdrop as participants voted on design concepts for an “Educational Environmental Element.”

Chicago’s skyline set the backdrop as participants voted on design concepts for an “Educational Environmental Element.”

The evening finished with all the Think Tank participants judging a design competition that challenged architects to envision an “Educational Environmental Element” for the new CCSD 59 Early Learning Center. The element had to be interactive and teach three- to five-year-olds about environmental responsibility. The winning entry will be built and presented to the district.

Thanks to all who participated in this event. You can view event photos here.

In the coming weeks and months, we’ll be blogging about some of the lessons that the Think Tank unveiled.


Train Station Design: Regaining the Power of Rail

Taking the train used to be an exciting experience. For many travelers, passing by beautiful train stations was an enjoyable part of their journey.

However, in the 60s and 70s, the train station lost its power as a community focal point and a symbol of connection between towns. Speed of construction and saving dollars took precedence over aesthetics and material quality.

Some new stations, like the Tinley Park 80th Avenue Metra station, look like they’ve always been there.

Some new stations, like the Tinley Park 80th Avenue Metra station, look like they’ve always been there.

Fortunately, we’re seeing a resurgence of iconic train stations in many communities. Cities and villages are closing down those decrepit shoebox stations where people bought a ticket then left as quickly as possible. Enter a new wave of stations that encourage citizens to stay, and in some cases, become the heart of the community.

Some communities want a new station to hark back to an earlier time or fit into a long-established downtown. Others want a whole new look that sets the tone for future architecture. In either case, the thoughtfully-designed train station can spark development and renewal.

This concept reflects the contemporary nature of high-speed rail.

This concept reflects the contemporary nature of high-speed rail.

What does your community want its ideal train station to achieve? To blend in? To make a statement? Whichever the case, the station has the potential to be so much more than a place to buy a ticket. Beautiful materials and strong design draw attention. Inviting interiors and amenities like WiFi and food service entice people to stay. A nice outdoor plaza might double as a gathering place for small concerts or community events.

I believe that in the coming years, train stations will continue their rally. In the best scenarios, they will even regain their reputation as the grand civic buildings they once were.


Design that Supports the Shift from Treating Illness to Promoting Health – Part 2 (Aesthetics)

In their ongoing quest to promote healthy lifestyles, health care providers have introduced a flurry of wellness-focused programs in recent years. Health care architects, as partners in this journey, have a duty to design hospitals, medical office buildings, and other facilities that encourage wellness.

My first entry on this topic discussed facilities’ programmatic response to this new perspective on health care. This time, I’d like to turn the focus to aesthetics . . . what architecture does with light, materials, colors, and space to create a pleasant atmosphere. What if a facility’s design could actually motivate occupants to make healthier choices? Good news: it has been done.

An extended display window helped transform a dark 1970s-era bank (inset) into the community-focused Erie HealthReach Waukegan Health Center.

An extended display window helped transform a dark 1970s-era bank (inset) into the community-focused Erie HealthReach Waukegan Health Center.

A grand stair within the display window encourages occupants to take the stairs in lieu of the elevator.

A grand stair within the display window encourages occupants to take the stairs in lieu of the elevator.

A Display Window with Benefits
The Erie HealthReach Waukegan Health Center offers a strong example of architecture’s ability to influence healthy behavior. The retrofit converted a bank in a 40-year-old building into a community health center.

One of the biggest aesthetic challenges that we confronted was that the bank was dark and inward-focused. For inspiration, we drew from display windows that address street activity in urban setting. The resulting large-scale extended display window at Erie HealthReach Waukegan engages the community on the outside and involves people on the inside.

This element houses the grand stair, brings natural light deep into the building, and glows with activity. Additionally, the vibrant grand stair has had a more direct impact on patients and staff . . .

A Picture of Health
Many of us have experienced a portrait painting whose eyes seem to follow us. The grand stair inside the display window is kind of like that, with one major exception: instead of making people uncomfortable, it encourages people to use it!

The stair feature is highly visible from both outside and inside the building. Its openness has actually inspired patients and staff to take the stairs rather than the elevator. The space entices occupants with bright colors, sleek materials, contemporary lighting, and abundant views.

Strong design like this reinforces the movement toward promoting optimum health.


The Essentials of Early Learning Center Design – Part Two (Inspire Curiosity)

Children are naturally inquisitive about the environments they occupy. This is especially true in the critical developmental period between the ages of three and five.

This installment of my series on early learning design focuses on the relationships between students, parents, and learning spaces, which should be flexible and interactive teaching tools.

A multipurpose room concept for the British School of Chicago emphasizes student curiosity and outdoor connectivity.

A multipurpose room concept for the British School of Chicago emphasizes student curiosity and outdoor connectivity.

Where the Intriguing Things Are
For an early learning center expansion, the British School of Chicago wanted to create a multipurpose space that offers indoor/outdoor connectivity and responds to students’ inquisitiveness. When children walk into the space, leaders stated, they should no longer feel like they are in a school.

The large windows with views to the campus are just the beginning. The design, inspired by the classic children’s book Where the Wild Things Are, creates a learning habitat rich in things to see, touch, and experience.

Since the school is a couple blocks from the Chicago River, the team thought in terms of riverbanks and oak savannas. This is reflected in the curving floor pattern and ceiling ribbons.

The concept of flowing extends to the branches that grow out of columns clad with reclaimed lumber.

A “portal wall” in the parent lounge encourages views into the multipurpose space.

A “portal wall” in the parent lounge encourages views into the multipurpose space.

A Portal to Playtime
Students are not the only ones whose curiosity the early learning center should pique; parents want to see how their little ones respond to different stimuli and interact with their peers. Thus, the design should give moms and dads views of their children in action.

A “portal wall” in a parent lounge concept (also developed for the British School of Chicago) has openings that frame views of the multipurpose space. The lounge offers a great way to welcome family members of enrolled children and showcase the nature-inspired environment to prospective students and their parents. Note that the windows enable views from both parents’ and children’s perspectives.


Design that Supports the Shift from Treating Illness to Promoting Health – Part 1 (Program)

How many people do you know who like going to the doctor? Probably not many.

We’ve been conditioned to go to ambulatory care centers and medical office buildings only when something is wrong. But what if that mindset changed? What if, instead of dreading going to the doctor’s office, the patient actually looked forward to it?

This shift is happening. Health care providers have kicked it off by introducing new education-focused programs. That’s half the battle.

The other half is creating health care centers that support this new mindset. These are bright, welcoming facilities where people can learn about everything from exercise and nutrition to strategies for effective parenting.

A community education room/demonstration kitchen at Erie Family Health Center’s Skokie/Evanston campus allows the organization to run a variety of programs such as diabetes support groups and healthy eating seminars.

A community education room/demonstration kitchen at Erie Family Health Center’s Skokie/Evanston campus allows the organization to run a variety of programs such as diabetes support groups and healthy eating seminars.

This is the first in a series of posts about how architecture can support this shift from a focus on treating illness to one of promoting health.

The first consideration is a programmatic one. If providers truly are to become a community health resource, they should offer spaces that support their programs.

Community health centers are paving the way for these types of spaces. We recently finished retrofits of older buildings into community health centers for Erie Family Health Center facilities in Evanston and Waukegan, Illinois. Community is a vital part of the organization’s brand. Therefore, both facilities offer a community health room where the organization can run its programs. Importantly, these rooms are not relegated to the back of the facility; rather, they are featured front and center off the main entry.

The bright nature of the spaces helps the organization not only run programs that promote long-term health, but also entice community members to participate.