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 Short Headline:  Community Building  (30 Character Max - Displays in News block)

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 Display Date:   2012-05-21

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The Anderson Center is on track to open this fall and is poised to challenge the digital age in its call for human interaction (the face-to-face kind).


When Tina VanSteenbergen ‘09 revisited campus and saw the Carol Young Anderson and Dennis L. Anderson University Center under construction, she was elated. “I think I took 30 pictures with my phone,” she says. “I was so impressed and excited.”

VanSteenbergen, a member of the Anderson Center taskforce, spent much of her senior year working on the project, lobbying for a meditation room, gender-neutral bathrooms, and more parking. She loves the center’s extensive glass walls that allow her to stand on one side of the building at Snelling and Englewood Avenues and see all the way through to the other side. “It’s an open, flowing space,” she says. “Our campus is moving in that direction.”

The Anderson Center is designed to enhance the sense of community on campus. Its huge, glass walls draw people in, and the 500-seat dining space is open to all—no meal plan required. Meanwhile, 112 underground parking spots ensure that visitors can easily access the building.

A see-through fireplace is adjacent to a coffee shop and cozy seating is scattered across the ground floor. The $36
million project represents the largest capital campaign in Hamline’s history for a single building. When it opens in the fall of 2012, it will provide an official front door to the campus community.

Creating Community

Community building is a unique challenge at Hamline. As the oldest university in the state, Hamline’s student body has outgrown its public spaces, explains Lowell Bromander, associate vice president for facilities services. Bush Student Center opened in 1963, when the student population was less than half of what it is today.

With the addition of the law school in 1976 and the graduate school in 1989, it’s easy for students in different disciplines to become isolated from the rest of campus. “Hamline can often feel compartmentalized,” says VanSteenbergen.

Furthermore, roughly 60 percent of students live off campus. “It’s always a challenge to integrate students who live off campus,” says anthropology professor David Davies. “And even more so: how to create the need or desire for people to interact with one another.”

Traditionally, explains Davies, communities evolved naturally through citizens working and worshiping together. But in today’s society, proximity doesn’t guarantee interaction. Davies grew up in the suburbs and says he talked to a neighbor that lived 50 feet away only once in 10 years. “You need to have a place, but you also need to have a reason for being and interacting in that place,” he says. “Otherwise, it’s just a building.”

More than a Building

Hamline students and faculty and staff members are dreaming up plenty of reasons to interact in the new University Center. Jane Turk, coordinator of civic engagement and service learning, envisions a new hub for voter registration. (Hamline is participating in a friendly competition sponsored by Tufts University in Boston that aims for the biggest turnout of student voters.) “Hamline has a reputation for being actively engaged during elections,” Turk says.

Student activities could also benefit from more exposure. Mike Schuster ’10, a member of the Anderson Center taskforce, says student events often see poor turnout in Bush Student Center, which doesn’t get a lot of concentrated foot traffic. “There’s not a center stage on campus where people can hold events,” says Schuster.

The Anderson Center design invites participation, says Angela Watson, principal at Shepley Bulfinch, the project’s architect. For example, if a poetry slam is happening in the forum, students will see it as they walk by. “They might actually make a detour to check it out,” says Watson, who also designed hospitals in New Hampshire and Connecticut, as well as the Holocaust and Human Rights Center at the University of Maine. “The idea is for people to actually see things going on, and that requires transparency.” 

Community By Design

Window technology has evolved to the point where this level of transparency is possible. The high-efficiency glass prevents energy from seeping out the windows even in Minnesota’s cold temperatures. The building’s glassy corridor follows a beaten path that once crossed the site, where students cut through the grass on their way in and out of campus. “It’s an embedded memory of the site,”says Luke Voiland, a Shepley Bulfinch architect. “There is a natural desire to enter campus from that direction.”

Floor-to-ceiling windows—permeable symbols of accessibility—offer panoramic views of Snelling Avenue on one end and campus on the other, with Old Main visible at points throughout the building. Occupants can also look up a main staircase from the ground floor to see the building’s upper levels and a skylight overhead. “We wanted it to feel like a walk through campus,” says Watson.

The Anderson Center isn’t a student union; it’s dedicated to the entire Hamline community. Instead of a game room, there’s a Starbucks coffee shop and an enormous dining hall. “Everybody likes food and warm drinks,” Voiland says.

The massive first floor lounge will feature a computer bar, wireless Internet, and enough space to accommodate the entire first-year class. A campus convenience store will sell clothing and grab-and-go items. The second level is devoted to dining, with tables sprawled across a floor overlooking walls of windows. On the third floor, moveable walls can morph spaces into dance halls or meeting rooms, and an outdoor terrace offers another picturesque view of campus.

“When buildings are designed correctly, they feel homey,” says Rebecca Kaarbo, coordinator of campus programs. “As soon as someone sets foot on campus at first-year orientation, this becomes their home,” she says. “This is a neighborhood.” 

Building Personal Connection

Technology also provides a sense of community. In today’s world, we connect with people from all eras and facets of our lives through Facebook and Twitter. We create professional communities on LinkedIn. We follow bloggers who share our similar interests. “But physical space still matters,” says Turk. “For example, in the university context, a course taken online is a very different experience from a course taken in person.”

People need to seek out common spaces in order to accommodate everyday accidental encounters. Community interaction can be fodder for innovation, says Turk. She points to science author Steven Johnson, who calls serendipitous encounters a cornerstone of innovation. Johnson writes about the engineer Wilson Greatbatch sitting down to lunch with two heart surgeons, where the idea of the pacemaker was born. “It’s about meeting the right people at the right time,” says Turk. “Of course, people are more likely to innovate if they have that central space.”

Wendy Burns MALS ’07, director of student leadership and activities, says student groups are increasingly connected online. However, those connections only complement their real-world activities. “Virtual communities will never replace actual communities,” she says. “The most productive [groups] have face-to-face time.”

The architects at Shepley Bulfinch say the Anderson Center is adapted for today’s techno-savvy learning style—something that quiet libraries can’t always accommodate. In the cafeteria, flat screens could project campus news and videos by day and movies by night. “The boundary between social life and learning life is blurred,” Watson says. “You can plug into flat screens on the wall and work on a project while you’re eating pizza and researching something on the Internet.” 

The Campus dinner Table

The center’s emphasis on food is another aid in creating a stronger community. Jayne Sommers, assistant director of student success and transition, says dining spaces naturally lend themselves to community because they give students a place to linger. She mentions the book, Big Questions, Worthy Dreams, by Sharon Daloz Parks, who writes that shared meals help create mentoring environments. Parks writes, “It is said that a group has become a community when someone brings food.”

People feel valued knowing they have a place to sit at the table, and it’s a welcome spot for dialogue and learning.” The practice of ‘the commons’ is what we’re creating,” Sommers says. “We don’t really have that now, where everyone feels equally welcome, that the space is their space.”

The new dining area is unique in that it can accommodate all-you-can-eat meal plans as well as a la carte retailers. It encourages a faculty member to drop by with a homemade peanut butter and jelly sandwich and sit down with a group of students on meal plans. Many universities don’t offer that type of space, says Watson. “Regardless of meal plan, people can sit together at the same table,” she says. “That’s tearing down boundaries. It’s pretty special.”

Watson expects people to slide the tables around, creating quiet corners and large gatherings, “You can create little neighborhoods within the dining area.” 

Going Green

Senior Emily Richey sits outside Sorin Dining Hall, selling T-shirts for a student organization. Students study in booths nearby, and a mounted television quietly hums in the lounge. Richey says she prefers to hang out at the Klas Center because it feels like a café. The Anderson Center will complement the Klas Center’s café atmosphere, but that isn’t what interests Richey most. “I’m really excited about the solar panels,” she says. “That makes me happy.”

The solar panels were created by the Bloomington company tenKsolar, and they are designed to have the highest energy output on the market. On a typical solar panel, when a corner is shaded from the sun, the circuit is broken and the panel stops working. On the tenKsolar model, a shaded corner results in only a single cell lost, and the panel continues to absorb energy. The panels will hang vertically and zigzag across the south side of the building, visible from Snelling Avenue. “You won’t miss them,” says Kent Larson, a Hamline trustee and senior vice president of operations at Xcel Energy.

Xcel donated cash and rebates to subsidize the solar panels and hired a consultant to help design an energy-efficient building. According to Larson, environmental design is becoming a new standard in the building industry. Xcel Energy is working toward a 20 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2020.

The Anderson Center is at the forefront of the movement toward environmental design. Rick Steinberger, McGough Construction project superintendent, says that in 25 years, he hasn’t worked on a state-of-the-art wall system such as this. The wall surface is a “rainscreen,” which positions insulation outward, making the thick wall more energy efficient and less prone to mold issues.

The building has numerous green features. The pedestrian lighting is LED, the paint is low-VOC, and the pedestrian pavers are pervious to rainwater, allowing water to sink into the ground below the pavement. The building’s lighting system can dim or even shut down to take advantage of sunlight shining through the windows. The outdoor terrace on the third floor is part of a green roof with sedum and grasses. All of the trees that were uprooted to make way for construction were either relocated on campus or milled for reuse inside the building.

The local agency Wood from the Hood is crafting some of the lumber into a bowl that will stand in the meditation room, which is a small, quiet space on the third floor. The oval-shaped meditation room will feature frosted glass, with light shining in from the outer windows. “An important part of community-building is nurturing our inner life,” says University Chaplain Nancy Victorin-Vangerud. “Having a meditation space in the midst of all this busyness is a powerful symbol of what it means to be human. Even if some people don’t use it regularly, just knowing it is there will matter to them.” 

New to the neighborhood

Victorin-Vangerud thinks the Anderson Center’s inviting design will encourage neighbors to visit. Mingling doesn’t always come naturally—Hamline United Methodist Church is across the street from campus, she says, but it’s still uncommon to cross paths. “It’s easy to stay on your side of the street,” she says. “With a place to hang out, there is much more of a possibility to connect and create relationships.”

“The fact that the building faces out into the community is itself a statement,” says Turk. “Most universities don’t have the advantage of being located in such close proximity to a vibrant neighborhood.”

Hamline has some fairly dynamic neighbors. The Central Corridor rail line is under construction a few blocks away. Hancock-Hamline Elementary is across the street, allowing students in the Hamline education department to try their hand at teaching. One block south of campus, a nonprofit called the Hamline Midway Coalition founded a local food resource hub that provides low-cost seeds, gardening workshops, a lending library, and information about local food access within the community. Coalition Executive Director Michael Jon Olson says he hopes new collaborations between Hamline and the community will arise when the center is completed. Neighbors may even utilize the convenience store from time to time, he says. “From an architectural perspective, it looks great,” he says. “It will anchor that corner.”

VanSteenbergen says she still can’t believe the construction is actually happening—it doesn’t seem that long ago that she sat at a table dreaming it up with the Anderson Center taskforce. She appreciates Hamline’s decision to create an inclusive building. “This is one space for everyone in the Hamline community, regardless of their role,” she says. “It really is a space that anybody can call their own.” 


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