Multidisciplinary inquiry is the heartbeat of a liberal arts education. It believes that for ideas to influence an increasingly connected world, they need to be forged in a fire fueled by diverse perspectives. The University of Texas’s College of Liberal Arts needed a central location to stoke those flames. Overland’s design for the new Liberal Arts Building is just the place, serving as the fundamental backbone for the College of Liberal Arts and providing a unified identity and home for the various Liberal Arts departments within an innovative and flexible modern learning environment.
Imagine you are a student with a brilliant idea. You’ve asked all the questions you know to ask, and found all the answers your professors have to offer. Still, you have the nagging suspicion that there could be more, something that’s missing. You sense that somewhere on campus, someone is asking the right questions to unlock new lines of research, new perspectives, and take your idea from brilliant to ground breaking.But where do you begin? Within the university’s largest college, making those connections was a logistical hurdle.
What if you could start one floor above you? Or just across the hall? What if those who could help you were sharing space and ideas?
That potential, and all the innovation it could yield, not only excited the dean of the Liberal Arts college, he knew it was critical for the future of the college.
So essential was the centralized, collaborative space that he decided to fund the building out of the college’s budget and was willing to put programming and staff on the chopping block in order to bring it to life. The building’s budget became a zero-sum game.“The dean said, ‘Every dollar you can save is a job or a program I don’t have to cut,’” said Principal in Charge Rick Archer.
Flexibility was everything in the design of the Liberal Arts Building. Each space needed to connect to ones around it, preventing intellectual silos created by physical isolation. No department could take permanent ownership of a space. They had to be ready to move, shift, and grow as a living organism.
Even the design process reflected that commitment to growth and change. The design changed five times during the construction process to better meet the client’s needs. Ultimately it became clear that a static skin would have to allow for a dynamic core.
“This is one of the smartest buildings we’ve ever done,” said Archer.
What began as a 200,000 SF space at 55 percent efficiency finished as a 212,000 SF space at 68 percent efficiency. Smart and flexible design brought the building in 15 percent under budget and ahead of schedule, surpassing the original LEED Silver aspiration and instead achieving LEED Gold. It is conceived to have a 100+ year lifespan, with administrative and faculty spaces designed to be retrofitted and reorganized as the college’s needs change over time.Transparency is the oxygen flowing through the College of Liberal Arts. Glass-walled offices make professors more accessible. A common space at the center of each floor encourages the sharing of ideas. The Liberal Arts Building redefines the standard of future building construction on the campus through sustainable design and maximized user benefit. It has become an incubator for the university motto, “What starts here changes the world.”
- American Society of Landscape Architects Design Award 2014
- Associated Builders and Contractors Excellence in Construction Award 2013
- AIA San Antonio Design Merit Award 2013
- Texas Architect, “What Starts Here,” November/December 2013
- The Alcalde, Texas Exes’ Magazine, “Under One Roof,” March/April 2013
- The Daily Texan, “New Liberal Arts Building Grades Out as a Gem,” January 2013
- Tower Talk, “Grand Opening Signals New Day For Liberal Arts,” January 2013