Master Housing Development Plan & Design of Weatherhead Hall

In 1995, Tulane University was living through some tough issues relative to sophomore retention. In addition to the usual culprits of sophomore attrition, Tulane was plagued with the designation of a top “second-choice” for top students because of its proximity to the liveliness of the French Quarter of New Orleans. Some top students were spending a “festive” freshman year at Tulane and then transferring to other institutions. Other top students developed low tolerances for the party environment in the residence halls and opted to transfer to their first choices.

Tulane University was one of the first universities in the United States to embark on a plan to radically transform the campus living experience with a specific goal to attract and retain students. The University decided to embark on an overhaul of its housing system because housing was hurting, not helping the retention problem. Tulane’s housing model was outdated, and at that time (1995) Vanderbilt and Princeton were charting new territory with their moves from housing communities that were organized around social and dining club organizations to models of authentic academic integration with intentional programming utilizing the residential college model. At the time, Tulane’s campus residences, dining, recreation, and student life were a disparate set of parts, functioning independently with limited physical connections to each other or to the academic community. There were few, if any, active social connections. Several conditions were limiting the vibrancy of campus life, including an abundance of low density structures located in the center of campus. Additionally, open space was over-scaled and inappropriate to the residential community and “knowing one’s neighbor.” The student perceived “that everything is too far away.” Most of the buildings along the main street had limited, if any, visible entrances or activities at the ground level and the dining had a windowless edge to the streetscape and primary pedestrian way. Most spaces were ill-defined and non-urban in nature, and existing buildings did not respond to the needs of the student community.

We took the entire committee to Princeton to define what it would take to move them from a social model to an academic model. The visioning process included the development of a community model that defined civic/social spaces, established criteria for faculty integration, offered students choices and could be changed every year. We advocated that the civic environments needed to be more like New Orleans. Big dining halls were not going to cut it. Students could get authentic beans and rice around the corner for much cheaper than a campus meal. Our plan disinvited vehicular traffic through the center of campus and instead invited the best local food vendors in and created a pedestrian spine through the campus. In order for the spine to be successful, all facilities on the path needed to be outwardly engaging on the first floor level. Our 2002 plan update lassoed critical spaces along the spine in the student union, library and other academic buildings.

Hanbury was integrally engaged in the development of a “white paper” on academic integration and the creation of residential learning communities. This work included development of model communities as aspirational models and a 10-year plan to achieve the goals. The physical plan included demolition of three structures, renovations to all existing student life facilities, and creation of four new communities. This was the first time a plan was created to view housing as an enhancement of a whole university system, aligning its programs with other strategic goals and visions. The plan, now 100 percent complete, represents the implementation of $120 million in renovation and new construction projects. The concepts earned an excellence in planning award from the Society of College & University Planners.

Subsequently, Hanbury, in association with a local architect, designed a new residential college as part of the plan. This new residential community serves 270 students, plus residence advisors, in 80,747 total square feet. The design supports defined student communities that reflect the desired program model; massing(four stories in one section, five stories in the other section) that responds to the internal program and external neighborhood influences; articulated courtyard spaces that respond to solar orientation and air movement; functional relationships of a secure entry desk, key program spaces and staff apartment; service functions and entry relationship and orientation to open space. A faculty residence is incorporated, linking the community to the adjacent historic residential neighborhood. Placement of the faculty residence, director’s apartment and social lounges at three primary corners of the residence hall provide a strong organizational concept. The building functions as an entry to campus. It achieved LEED® Gold certification.

"(Weatherhead Hall) is a symbol of the renewal of Tulane University after Hurricane Katrina and also represents the merging of our academic mission with residential living on campus."

Scott Cowen, Tulane University President

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