After 15 months of construction, the Mark Salkind center, Urban’s largest physical expansion in its history, is complete. The building was designed by the architecture firm Pfau Long. According to the firm, the building adds 25,850 square feet of usable space (an expansion of over 50 percent) in the form of a new gym, additional classrooms, offices, and a rooftop field. The North Campus Expansion also coincides with the expansion of the student body to its largest ever population, 417 students.
With these changes comes a new architectural emphasis. “Through many discussions with the school … the largest piece of philosophy that shows through is having this openness within the building, openness to both the exterior as well as the openness to the Gym, and the connection of the Gym to the common spaces as well as the classrooms,” said Kami Kinkaid, a member of the design team of the new building. In spite of the changes, the architects attempted to integrate some features ubiquitous to the old Urban in the new. “Having small spaces or study niches … you guys make space wherever you can, and we didn’t wanna lose that quality when making a new space with a different approach,” said Kinkaid. “Old” Urban also played a role in influencing the design of the building. “[The inspiration for the new building was] how your students use your existing campus, and having a space right next to the Panhandle, and how those two pieces intertwine,” said Kinkaid. In spite of the fact that the building adds significantly to Urban’s overall square-footage, space was the biggest design challenge. “Trying to prioritize getting you [the school] as much space as possible. There are limitations of what that is and what that can be,” said Kinkaid.
Students interviewed for this article had mixed impressions of the building itself.
“I think it’s very architecturally and visually appealing,” said Lily Niehaus (‘18) on the new building. “I really like the Page Street entrance, how nice the concrete, plants, and reflective glass are.” In a survey of 78 Urban students, nearly 80 percent said they liked the design.
However not everyone at Urban was pleased with the final product. “It let me down,” said Lucas Lepinard (‘17). Lepinard’s primary complaint was, “I thought it was going to be a lot cooler, and it’s just a gym, and not as much of a student center as I expected … The whole student area is bad, and it’s all spread out and super small, and there’s not enough tables,” he said.
Another important consideration of the new building is what it will change culturally about Urban. In the same survey, just under 54 percent of students said the new building would have an impact on Urban’s culture. Although far less tangible than physical aspects of the new building, its opening not only expands Urban physically but could also affect the zeitgeist of Urban. “What stands out to me is that everything is centered around the gym … which is cool, because I think it will bring more spirit to Urban, during basketball and volleyball games,” said Niehaus on the cultural changes.
Students also speculated about how the addition of the new building will or will not change the school’s social centers of gravity. “I think that the juniors and seniors definitely gravitate more towards the old building because that’s where we’re used to hanging out, but I think it will affect where the Freshmen and Sophomores hangout in the future,” said Niehaus.
Others affirmed that the building will maintain elements of old Urban. “It’s [the new building] the inverse of this building [the old building], it’s one giant space…those little nooks create opportunities for people to make small spaces in the big spaces,” said Clarke Weatherspoon, Dean of Equity and Inclusion.
Others raised doubts about the new building’s ability to meaningfully change where Urban students spend their free time at school. “Most people are gonna stay in the Old Building … people might study there, but it [the new building] doesn’t provide enough of a reason for people to go over and stay,” said Lepinard.
Architectural and behavioral analysis aside, only time will tell whether or not the opening of the new building is the beginning of a new era of Urban.