MDC’s Academic Support Center Touts Student-Driven Design

MIAMI — The new Academic Support Center at Miami Dade College’s (MDC) Kendall Campus received LEED Gold certification last fall after opening for use in January 2013. The facility not only touts two outdoor learning spaces and an inherently green central atrium space, it also serves as a learning tool for students to understand the impact they make on the environment.
The facility was designed to create a gateway to the MDC system and to create a sense of identity and place for all new students, said Pat Bosch, design director and principal at the Miami office of Perkins+Will, which served as the architect on the project. The 135,000-square-foot building centralizes all Student Services departments for more than 120,000 students.
“The facility serves as a hub, a community, a main street and a beacon,” Bosch said. “The goal was to create a new brand for MDC as a multidisciplinary and entrepreneurial, community-based institution by creating a welcoming, transparent structure that was welcoming and showcased learning and research.”
The building features 21 prototypical, 930-square-foot classrooms as well as a Resource and Testing Center — all of which are located above a base of admission offices. The central atrium space was created with the students in mind and contains all lounging, study and campus information programs within the atrium.
Perkins+Will designed the structure to address some of the college’s 10 Learning Outcomes such as describing how natural systems function and recognizing the impact humans make on the environment. As such, the project includes two outdoor learning spaces. One of the spaces incorporates a rain clock, a dry retention structure that adjusts seasonally to coordinate stormwater. An open grid paving system conceals a shallow custom rainwater cistern nearby the main entry, which illustrates roof rainwater harvesting, Bosch said.
Staying within the project’s timeframe and budget were the biggest challenges on the project, Bosch said. “Because we had created a Basis of Design document, outlining all the prototypical spaces for learning for the MDC system, we utilized all the ‘kit of parts’ and were able to reduce time and, thus, the cost,” she added. “What amounted? One of the most technology-driven, flexible buildings with a reduced cost.”

Additionally, the hybrid quality of the program was a challenge that was turned into a driver behind the design, Bosch said. “It was a building turned into a community, a connector and a gateway,” she said.

Compared to other projects Bosch has worked on, the Academic Support Center is philosophically similar, but different in scale and use.

“I like to call it a testing philosophy with a different typology,” she said. “It utilizes the premise of modularity, standardization and a kit of parts, based on prototypical learning environments created for the system. It gives the building ultimate flexibility and adaptability. It was created to allow change and to allow evolution.”

The building was designed to give students control of their environment. They want to be given the freedom to create their own canvas for learning, gathering, researching and socializing, Bosch said.

“I learned that the design of the ‘space in between’ traditional program areas is as important or more important to the supporting informal learning and furthering the potential for collaboration and interaction,” she added. “Also, learning today and tomorrow is not static; it’s more dynamic and virtual. Thus, our spaces and our buildings need to respond to this new reality and future.”