Building Evaluation & Recommendations
The University of Montana University Center (UC) originally opened in January of 1969. Early planning called for three separate buildings connected by an outdoor courtyard. Due to concerns regarding the local climate, the design was adjusted to enclose this outdoor space. The form of the original building, with a T-shaped atrium connecting the main entrances from the north, south, and west, is still evident today. Early attempts to grow native Montana species within the atrium gave way to plants that were better suited to the controlled indoor climate. This resulted in the now iconic tropical gardens, which provide a “Wow-Factor” many other similar facilities lack.
Numerous changes were made to the UC over the years based on programming needs and revenue generation. Two major renovations/additions, one in the mid-90s and one in 2000, specifically targeted the extensive task of asbestos removal. Continuous upgrades to the building have attempted to meet the changing needs of students, including the goal of making the UC the best Wi-Fi hub in Missoula. However, the building is showing signs of its age and has become dated. The need to transform the facility into a more dynamic student life center for the next generation of students has become observable.
The architectural character, especially apparent from the exterior, is a jumble of styles and materials. The resulting aesthetic is often described as unwelcoming and even forbidding. Two of the primary factors are the pre-cast concrete wall system with narrow, vertical windows and the imposing multi-level exterior stairs that dominate each of the three main entrances.
The functions within the UC are a valued resource for students, staff, faculty, and the greater community. As with many similar facilities at other campuses, food and the Bookstore are the two leading drivers for bringing people into the building. Ultimately, the UC is packed with well-used functions. At times, it overflows with energy and activity. The atrium gardens are a unique feature that receive near universal praise and serve as a point of pride. The building has been well maintained with the available resources and is clearly appreciated as the heart of the University of Montana campus.
After all the research, several basic themes emerged. Based on input from the workshops, on-line surveys, benchmarking, UC staff, and our analysis of building operations, the WTW planning team recommends the following strategic improvements to the University Center:
1. Transform and Unify the Exterior Architecture
Remove the current concrete boxlike shell of the existing building and envision a new exterior architecture. Transform the University Center into a more vibrant crossroad of campus community and a dynamic showcase for student life.
2. Enhance the Atrium and Improve Public Wayfinding
Expand and reconfigure the atrium to provide new gathering spaces for students. Transform the UC into the true ‘living room’ of the campus by introducing more student-friendly lounge space. Add more visibility, better signage, and enhanced technology to improve wayfinding for visitors.
3. Improve Key Program Elements
Reconfigure the interior functions of the building such as the ballroom, art gallery, and technology suite to provide greater public use and access to these important building functions. Related programs that are currently separated such as ASUM and the student organizations suite should be relocated as common neighbors. Administrative offices that are currently dispersed should be consolidated into a single building management/ operations suite.
4. Add More Flexibility
Plan for the future by adding more flexible building systems, movable furnishings, and adaptive technology where possible.
5. Active Outdoor Spaces
Capture the spirit of Montana by activating many of the outdoor opportunities around the current facility. Consider outdoor dining patios, balconies, and rooftop terraces for receptions and prefunction events. Create better views of the surrounding mountains and campus by making the building more transparent.