Queens College Student Union
project name : Renovation & Addition to the Queens College Student Union
location : Queens, New York
year of design: 1997-1999
client: Queens College Student Union Corp., President’s Office
architect: George Ranalli
associates: Robert Silman Structural Engineer
design team: Mark Dixon, Price Harrison, Fran Leadon
photographer: George Ranalli
Queens, New York is one of the nation’s most diverse counties, and Queens College students represent over one hundred countries. The college recognizes that student organizations enhance and provide opportunities beyond the curriculum for personal growth and development of leadership skills. Buildings to house such activities are not merely an afterthought in the ongoing redesign of its campus, but a central concern.
Since 1971, the Queens College Student Union, which includes student government, club, dining, and recreational facilities, was housed—with some difficulty—in a 184,000-square-foot, neo-Brutalist building that was both oppressively ugly and isolated from the main campus. We were asked to help remedy these problems with a new landscape design and a three-story, 42,000-square-foot addition.
The twin goals of the landscape design were to reconnect the Student Union complex with the rest of the campus, and to convert the area east of the existing Student Union building into a garden and park for quiet recreation. To this end, the area around the new and existing buildings is made into three interconnecting courts, each one paved with slate. The first of these, the Student Union Court, connects to the main campus Quadrangle by a stair and ramp. A large newly designed fountain is visible from a new café. The second, the Entrance Court, is placed on axis with the route to Jefferson and Kiley Halls; faced on the west and south by the entrances to the new and existing buildings. The third, the Garden Court, contains another fountain surrounded by existing trees and a newly planted grove of maple trees, surrounded by benches for students and faculty to eat, talk, read, and relax. At the east edge of the Garden Court, a stair and ramp connect the campus to Kissena Boulevard.
The new landscape design further emphasizes the co-curricular setting as a point of reference, integrating new and existing cocurricular buildings with a series of interconnecting terraces for quiet and communal seating, events, exhibits, and performances. Footpaths link to campus walkways and a new 1,900-squarefoot parking facility from the terraces.
Design of the revitalized campus entrance began by considering the location of a city bus station on the public street. The city bus line connects the college to other parts of Queens, the New York City subway system, and the Long Island Rail Road. Moving the bus station a small distance made way for a prominent campus entrance featuring a welcoming grove of trees and offering a series of footpaths leading to the nearby student co-curricular facility and elsewhere.
The renovation of the existing Student Union building involves a complete program change to several floors and new architectural finishes to several other floors. The design culminate in an extensive interior makeover that helps transform the bleakness of the existing Brutalist structure into a comfortable and accessible set of spaces.
Finally, the new co-curricular building occupies a site adjacent to the existing Student Union building, currently a parking lot that is also the roof of the existing basement. It expands existing café facilities, creates twelve large seminar rooms and conferences, and provides a new 444-seat oval theater for lectures, recitals, and performances. It is functional, beautiful, and environmentally responsive, faced partly in limestone with an intricate pattern of stonework. The upper part of the building is finished in copper, with large, raised blocks containing glass openings to enhance the natural lighting in the seminar rooms. Its L shape, wrapping around one corner of the existing Student Union, softens the stark geometry of the latter without compromising functionality. Colorful contemporary interior spaces blend state-of-the-art technology with allusions to campus architecture.
The co-curricular setting celebrates the vibrant diversity of Queens College, and provides the campus with a unique setting for community events and cultural offerings.