Click here for a letter from our team on COVID-19.
James W. Norman Hall has been known for decades as the nexus of the University of Florida's College of Education. It was designed and built in 1934 as a K-12 school, named for civic leader P.K. Yonge. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989, the building held the potential to be a gem of historic architecture on UF's campus.
But building modifications over time buried distinctive architectural elements and the accumulation of critical repairs and maintenance seriously strained college resources. By the turn of the 21st century, Norman Hall no longer met the myriad needs of the students, faculty, and administrative staff who are learning, teaching and working throughout the building.
Our design team was charged with rehabilitating historic Norman Hall to support 21st-century learning technologies while preserving the Hall's "collegiate Gothic" character. To give the facility a new life, we took cues from photographs of building interiors from the 1950s. We discovered that the main West entrance had been intended as a gathering place, but offices and storage rooms had encroached upon space and obstructed traffic flow. We began by prioritizing changes that would alter or remove interior structures to let in natural light, facilitate movement and create gathering spaces.
The renovation and expansion of the Reitz Student Union, built in 1967, expanded facilities, services, and programs supporting the University of Florida’s diverse campus community, increased energy efficiency, reduced operational costs, and greatly enhanced comfort and functionality.
Phase 1, the 100,000 sf addition, included entry and food court renovations, meeting rooms, lounges, dance rehearsal studios, a ballroom, and offices and support space for the Center for Leadership and Service, the Department of Student Activities and Involvement, the Office of Multicultural and Diversity Affairs, GatorWell Health Promotion Services, and student clubs and organizations.
Phase 2, the 50,000 sf renovation, included new energy-efficient windows and doors, restoration of exterior surfaces and structural components, replacement and upgrades of electrical, plumbing, and HVAC systems, and upgrades to interior finishes and lighting.
Careful phasing ensured that the Reitz continued to serve UF’s 50,000 students throughout construction.
University of Florida College of Education
Affiliated Engineers (MEPF)
Structural Engineers Group (Structural)
CHW Professional Consultants (Civil)
Gale Associates (Commissioning)
Glave & Holmes (Historic Preservation)
Wayfinding and access presented significant issues at every entrance. Visitors who entered from the parking garage found no reception, signage or other wayfinding cues. For those who required an accessible route, the loading dock provided the only point of entry. Even the West entry acted as a bottleneck for students dashing between classes. They voiced complaints about hard-to-find locations and the lack of places to gather or sit. Responding to these frustrations, we made conservative, but significant changes that brought clarity and logic to layouts and provided intuitive wayfinding.
Our design team activated the West entrance, recreating the entry's original vestibule as a gesture to the past that exudes welcome. A food market at this main entrance includes a new Starbucks and gives students access to sustenance during a busy, heavily scheduled day. One graduate student noted, "All of my classes are in Norman Hall, which is distant from other campus food outlets. It's hard to be on campus all day and remain focused with no options for coffee or sandwiches." Now, the space is inviting, purposeful, and enhances the day-to-day experience of students and faculty.
As part of creating a richer and more inspiring on-campus experience, we were sensitive to building aesthetics. Norman Hall had beautiful original wood paneling that graced the first floor and lobby and the library. Our design team honored the crafted look by extended wood paneling throughout, thereby conveying a sense of the Hall's history and maintaining the architect's design aesthetic and integrity.
Using the guidance of historical photographs, the original P.K. Yonge library was brought back to its former glory. We discovered and restored — rather than replaced — library ceiling tiles by commissioning a local artist to hand-paint each plaster tile. This decision preserved a piece of history at one-tenth of the cost of replacement. Our partner at the University of Florida, Dr. Thomas Dana, remarked, "It was a joy to discover the original ornate tiles under the false ceiling, and fascinating to watch it come back to life. Bringing back this prominent feature that most didn't know about was a project highlight for me. We found it under everything like a surprise."
When our work began, much of the building infrastructure was in dire need of renewal and replacement, including electrical, fire safety, and plumbing systems and HVAC in a building that had not been designed to house an HVAC system. New technologies, including 3D point scanning, enabled us to receive accurate contractor bids and helped prevent errors in design.
Ultimately, our rehabilitation work met all current building codes and improved operational efficiency, resulting in a building that is 30% more efficient than the industry baseline. Norman Hall has achieved Gold certification under LEED®.
At Walker, one of our core values is Wonder. With this in mind, our team challenged initial project programming that placed a one-story conference center at the North parking lot adjacent to Norman Hall. Rather than reduce on-campus parking, we proposed using the loading dock as the conference center site. This change led to dismantling an 18-foot brick wall that blocked the loading dock from view, finally connecting the Hall and Norman Village to the main UF campus, not to mention saving the project close to $1M.
Throughout the design process, we asked, "Why limit ourselves to what is presented to us?" By embracing Wonder, we were open to unconventional ideas that transformed a campus "liability" into a people-centered place for research and learning, including common spaces for studying, socializing and gathering (with coffee and sandwiches close at hand).
Accessible, inviting and authentic in its restored beauty, Norman Hall now represents the identity of the University's highly ranked College of Education. It stands as a shining example of the tenets of architecture and the ideals of higher education, honoring the past while opening a door to the future.
Dr. Thomas Dana, Professor and Associate Dean of Academic Affairs
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the School of Education has not yet experienced the full potential of a rehabilitated Norman Hall. But this temporary setback has not prevented Dr. Dana from dreaming. "The beauty is that Norman Hall doesn't serve only the College of Education; it serves all areas of campus that need classrooms. I am eager to see students from across the campus discover and use the space when things return to normality."
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