In order for University of North Texas’s Dallas campus to become an independent accredited university, it needed to house the required departments and services. Upon its completion, the newly commissioned Founders Hall would more than fulfill that goal, creating a bustling center for student life.
A brand new university needs to strike a careful balance. Budgets are tight, and yet in order to grow, they must provide the kind of learning environment that will attract a growing student body and competitive faculty. They need to create a bustling, energized hub for students who commute. Faculty need to know that they will have the resources available to educate and inspire. But primarily, the new university must demonstrate their commitment to being at the forefront of education, whatever their size.
UNT Dallas’s long-term plan for the campus envisions a student population of eighteen thousand to twenty thousand students in department-specific facilities. Founders Hall will not always serve as many purposes as it does now, and Overland designed it to transition gracefully as the university’s needs change.
For the time being, however, every inch of the space needed to function broadly, giving the university the opportunity to show their own embedded potential. UNT Dallas’s commitment to twenty-first-century education meant that classrooms would need state-of-the-art technology, as well as the timeless qualities of traditional venues.
Versatility was everything for the fledgling university. Every teaching space would be shared by multiple professors. Student services, the library, science labs, and faculty offices had to cohabitate efficiently. In essence, Founders Hall would act as a microcampus until the university enrollment demanded expansion.
Common space was the key. Students and instructors would not necessarily be able to linger in the instruction space. By turning the area between the new and existing buildings into a functional courtyard, and including lounge and nondesignated meeting areas, Overland was able to alleviate some of the pressure on offices and classrooms. As the next class filed in, they could take advantage of strategically placed common areas to continue discussion or coordinate group projects.
The clients agreed that sustainability was integral to the university’s future. Overland helped the university write a grant to add additional solar panels to the roof. A fifty-thousand-gallon cistern collects not only Dallas’s erratic rainfall but the consistent supply of condensate from the HVAC system.
Perhaps the biggest challenge was delivering this malleable, sustainable space in what seemed to be an ever-shortening timeline. “Because of it becoming a standalone university, they were under immense pressure to get the building done,” said Principal in Charge Jim Shelton.
Add to that pressure a late start, a harsh, snowy winter, and a construction schedule with zero margins, and the project simply had no room for error. Nevertheless, Overland delivered a LEED Gold project—designed and constructed in only eighteen months—that opened in time for classes, and UNT Dallas stepped into its future.