Populous Designs Spectacular New Baylor Welcome Center

By Eric Althoff

WACO, Tex.—Baylor University has a new “front door” at its campus thanks to a project envisioned by designer Populous. The 136,000-square-foot Mark and Paula Hurd Welcome Center—named for alumnus and Oracle founder Mark Hurd and his wife, Paula—is also home to Baylor’s undergraduate admissions office and alumni center, as well as a coffee house, auditorium and ballroom space.

The building features a 23,000-square-foot, 70-foot-tall gathering space called Carlton Hall, with crossbeams fashioned by the oak trees endemic throughout the Baylor campus, and is meant to evoke students’ journey in the university. Populous applied a white marble-patterned floor for the interior, and an inlaid brass strip in the floor’s center represents “That Good Old Baylor

Line” that is meant to start students on their academic journeys. Lounge seating areas allow for various gatherings as well.

On the exterior, the building features red brick and windows made of stained glass that will reflect some of the Texas heat. Four illuminated columns are meant to welcome the campus visitor, as well as call to mind Baylor’s credo of “distributing” enlightenment and will be visible to motorists driving past on Interstate 35. Populous worked with AV consultant Electrosonic, digital design studio RLMG and fabricator Xibitz to realize the illuminated columns.

“Through comprehensive workshops with Baylor, it was clear that the university was looking for something that would truly set it apart from other institutions in higher education,” Shawn Sanem, an associate principal and senior graphic designer at Populous, said of this unique feature. “The column installations use dynamic technology, rich media and lighting to tell the Baylor story in an unexpected way and connect with students who expect shareable moments. The four elements of Reflect, Connect, Aspire, Amplify are representative of Baylor values and provide an interactive, immersive and memorable experience for students and visitors.”

“The Mark and Paula Hurd Welcome Center offers a spectacular setting for students’ first memories of Baylor University,” added Sherri Privitera, a senior principal and senior architect at Populous. “Baylor is truly a front-runner in creating meaningful student experiences.”

Populous provided architectural and site planning services and worked with general contractor Vaughn Construction. The intersection where the Hurd Center is now located is the most trafficked on campus.

“Designed with the entire Baylor University Family in mind, the Mark and Paula Hurd Welcome Center represents a new front door to the institution that allows Baylor to further solidify its position as the world’s preeminent Christian research university,” said President Linda A. Livingstone. “When we launched the Give Light campaign in 2018, Mark and Paula gave a transformational gift that has allowed us to create unique experiences for more than 50,000 campus visitors each year. Once inside, our guests will learn about Baylor’s past, present and future while joining in meaningful engagement opportunities that advance the work of the university.

“We are so grateful for the Hurds’ generosity and to Populous for its partnership in this special endeavor.”

Populous has been crafting more than $40 billion worth of projects of the past several decades. The firm operates from regional centers in Kansas City, London and Brisbane.

Editor’s Note: Additional coverage of this new facility can be found in the September/October issue of School Construction News.