Student Center wins two awards from American Institute of Architects Chicago

By Amina Sergazina , Staff Reporter

In addition to the recent AIA Chicago honor, the Student Center has been recognized for three other awards this year. Ignacio Calderon

The Chicago chapter of the American Institute of Architects awarded Columbia’s Student Center the Distinguished Building Award and a Citation of Merit in Interior Architecture for its concept, garnering two coveted accolades for the college.

Andrew Dutil, director of the Student Center, located at 754 S. Wabash Ave., said winning the award, which was announced Nov. 13, is great exposure for the college.

“We are thrilled to see our campus recognized in this way,” Dutil said. “The Student Center truly reflects the ideals we have for our campus and is another step in the evolution of the Columbia College Chicago experience.”

Anjulie Rao, communications director at AIA Chicago, said to be qualified for the award, buildings had to be built during the last five years by a Chicago based-firm or by a company from anywhere building a project here.  To be eligible for the award, architecture firms submit their best projects.

The Design Excellence Award has three categories: the Distinguished Building Award, which recognizes the contribution to the architecture field; the Interior Architecture Award, which recognizes interior architecture; and the Divine Detail Award, which recognizes components that exemplify craft materials, Rao said.

Scott Hurst, a design director at the Gensler architecture firm, worked on the team that designed and built the Student Center. Hurst said before they started to design it, they toured the country to learn from design aspects on other college campuses.

Because Columbia’s buildings are spread out along Wabash and Michigan avenues, Hurst said the Student Center was meant to tie them all together.

“The project started off with the strategic vision from President and CEO Kwang-Wu Kim, which started with conversations he had with students,” Hurst said. “From those conversations he identified the need for a place on campus for students to come together at Columbia,” Hurst said.

Dutil said the Student Center was created not only to bring students together but also to allow for collaboration.

“The building was built to further our mission of creating a true campus hub where students feel a sense of belonging and offering a place to gather, create and collaborate—and we remain focused on fulfilling that mission every day,” he said.

Hurst said prior to designing the Student Center, the design team also met with more than 200 students, including those from the Student Government Association and campus athletic groups, to talk about their needs on campus.

The materials used to build the center were primarily glass, concrete and wood because they are “timeless,” Hurst said. But the main reason for the simple design was to highlight the work of the students inside.

“We wanted to make sure that the building didn’t overshadow what’s going on inside,” Hurst said. “It’s the students’ work, the creativity and the passion of all of the Columbia College students that becomes the decoration for the building.”

The AIA Chicago awards were not the first awards won by the Student Center. It previously was recognized by The American Architecture Awards in early 2020, was a Chicago Building Congress 2020 Merit Award Finalist for Commercial Construction and won the Chicago Commercial Real Estate Awards’ Build to Suit Project of the Year category in June.

However, the building was not created with the sole purpose to win awards.

“It’s nice to get recognition, particularly from our peers,” Hurst said. “That being said, any great project starts with a great client with a clear vision; it relies on a great team of people to actually get it done, and then, last but not least, the people that use that building. It’s not that often that all three of those things align to create a really great project. In this case with Columbia College, we had all three.”