There were many reasons that William Rawn Associates earned the right to design the Armstrong Student Center as a true centerpiece and focal point of student life on Miami University’s campus.
At the forefront was the firm’s extensive background working on college campuses that includes projects at more than 40 colleges and universities nationally, including Yale University, the University of Virginia, the College of William and Mary, Stanford University, Duke University and Dartmouth College.
There is also the matter of reputation. When Architect Magazine named its Top 50 Architecture Firms in 2009, William Rawn Associates was ranked No. 1.
But it never hurts to have a secret weapon in your back pocket, and for William Rawn Associates, it was one of Miami’s own—project architect Andrew Jonic ’97.
Jonic, who went on to earn his master’s from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 2001 before joining William Rawn Associates, has been able to harness his love of Miami’s campus and his understanding of student culture to collaborate on the design of a facility that will engage generations of Miamians.
Following is a Q&A with Jonic, highlighting his background and providing an insider’s look at the work behind the Armstrong Student Center:
Q: As a native of Ridgefield, Conn., how did you end up at Miami University as a student?
A: My father and I went to visit an architect in our town to learn about the profession, and it happened that both of his sons had gone to Miami, so that’s how I became aware of Miami. Secondly, while I was interested in studying architecture, I wasn’t sure I wanted to pursue it. Miami was a school that was strong in multiple fields if I decided I wanted to change majors.
Q: Describe your first experience with Miami’s campus.
A: I still remember it vividly. My father and I came in on a Friday night in September. The campus was beautiful and there was a real buzz of activity with school having just started. I loved that first visit and the four years that followed.
Q: What stands out about your student experience at Miami?
A: The camaraderie of the students in the architecture department and our great relationships with the faculty. We had a lot of late nights getting our drawings and models put together to present on Fridays. It was a great experience, and it really prepared me for graduate school and beyond.
Q: What were your feelings when you learned you were going to be working on the Armstrong Student Center project?
A: I’m not usually involved in the interview stages, so I didn’t know much about it until I got word we’d won the project. I had only been back to Miami once since graduation, so I was excited to get back on campus. I’d worked on a much smaller scale student center at Milton Academy (Boston) and had seen how it became a hotbed of student activity, so I was also excited to be able to work on a building that will do some of the same things for Miami students. It will be a tremendous place to see and be seen.
Q: What’s your role as project architect?
A: It includes a wide range of activities from laying out floor plans, designing exterior facades, overseeing the construction of the physical models, and collaborating with our associate firm BHDP and their consultants, who oversee construction. Once construction begins, we’ll come out periodically to see how it’s progressing.
Q: What was challenging about designing the Armstrong Student Center?
A: Like most Miami students, one of my primary memories of Miami is the beauty of the campus, so getting the Armstrong Student Center to fit in was very important to me. Having Rowan and Gaskill already there really helped, but there was a lot of thought that went into the materials we used and how we connected to the Armstrong Student Center from other areas on campus by maintaining current pedestrian pathways. We’re especially proud of the 20-foot wide ‘Slant Walk’ that carries students from the Rowan Hall entrance and the Shade Family Room, through the centrally located rotunda, and out into the campus Hub – it’s pretty dramatic and will have a great energy.
Q: Talk about utilizing Culler, Gaskill and Rowan Halls in the design.
A: Using existing buildings is a sustainable idea that we’ve seen more frequently in recent years. You use a lot less energy renovating than building new, and you save money on foundations and exterior materials. Rowan and Gaskill make up the majority of the building’s exterior, and while I wouldn’t say it was easy getting everything to fit, having those two buildings with a significant physical presence did make it easier to fit a large student center in the middle of campus.
Q: How will the design meet the goal of bringing Miami students together?
A: Along with its central campus location, it provides space in the upper two floors of what used to be Gaskill to bring together student groups and organizations that are currently spread out on campus. There are six different food concepts within the dining commons, and having so many options is also sure to bring students together. Then there are some great spaces like the 500-seat theatre and the Pavillion, a large event space that will host a lot of student activities.
It’s been exciting designing a building that will bring students together in the heart of campus. Lately I’ve been thinking about how my student experience may have been different and what else I might have become involved in if the Armstrong Student Center had existed then.