Building for a Collegiate Cultural Awakening

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In every corner of the world, societies are connected in celebration of cultural heritage. Deeply rooted in tradition, these fundamental forms of expression increasingly influence numerous aspects of daily life, from the clothing we wear and the food we eat to our religious observances and the art we create to even the buildings in which we live, work, and play. Architectural designs that are built on foundations of cultural diversity present masterful blends of landscape, music, and other ethnic rituals, helping to tell a civilization's story through a visual language for all to experience.

A destination-both temporary and permanent-for millions around the world, the U.S. is a canvas of remarkable architectural structures designed to embrace the diversity of its inhabitants. From exterior building materials to interior design elements, these structural icons not only bring local color and sundry style to America's landscape but also provide those who hail from distant countries with familiar traces of home.

Essential components in cultivating cultural bonds for natives and tourists alike, these distinctive architectural characteristics are now being brought together in a most apropos place: college campuses.

The Designs of Many Nations

With colleges and universities across the U.S. representing upwards of 110 ethnicities, administrators are increasingly seeking new and different ways to connect the members of their increasingly diverse student populations. The establishment of multicultural centers is a resulting and emerging trend that has significantly increased in the last five years. Built to provide students-both residents and those studying abroad-with unique opportunities to explore their ancestral history while allowing others to experience cultures and lands they've never known, these facilities use patterns, colors, and textures intrinsic to particular nations to foster a familiar sense of community through culturally influenced architecture and design.

The Paul Robeson Cultural Center on Pennsylvania State University's campus in University Park, PA, is a noteworthy example. An 18,000-square-foot facility built to house the university's African American student administration and international students for the entire campus, it was designed to reflect and celebrate the Afrocentric Architecture motif.

The center comprises a gallery dedicated to showcasing African American art and multipurpose areas for hosting lectures, film festivals, and other cultural events. From the places where walls adjoin, the layout of hallways and overall design and placement of exterior and interior components bring together the deep roots of music beats, subtle colors, and rich traditions. Features, textures, and patterns that create illusions of movement, rhythm, and form speak directly to African American influences.

Another illustration of a culturally enhanced collegiate facility is the Baker University Student Center at Ohio University in Athens, OH. Designed to incorporate the voices of many nations, the center was constructed to embrace students' insights and ideas about cultural elements they wanted portrayed through the architecture. Unique designs-such as a fresco-fashioned floor that reflects the story of African American traditions, folklore, family, and community-provide glimpses into numerous diverse histories and stories and allow students to pay homage to their traditions.

Modern Reflections of the Past

Importantly, designing contemporary architecture with the integration of historic and/or cultural features can be challenging. For many, modern design is considered to be its own display of present-day culture, and those older influences and traditions can sometimes be easily overlooked or forgotten.

However, there remain many opportunities for college campuses and other buildings and communities to depict reflections and characteristics of the past. Consider simple architectural elements such as the columns that infuse Greek and Roman architecture, the use of marble in Italian construction, and the bright color palettes of Spanish design. Design traits specifically reflective of African American culture are kinte cloth and the African mud rug. These are subtle amenities to a space, yet they are easily identifiable with their distinct patterns and colors as symbols of a rich culture, serving as yet another way to infuse today's architecture with emblems of the past.

Undoubtedly, cultural influences from vast societies around the world will continue to permeate U.S. architectural styles and designs. Multicultural centers are just one illustration of how preserving these pieces of the past as treasured parts of today can celebrate the diverse heritage of this great country.

About the Author

Curt Moody is president and CEO of Moody Nolan, Inc., an architecture, interior design, and civil engineering firm specializing in higher education, sports/recreation, healthcare, and public service facilities. Headquartered in Columbus, OH, Moody"Nolan is the largest minority-owned firm in the nation.
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 America  colleges and universities  administration  sense of community  institutions  African-Americans  Roman architecture  architectural styles  interior design  cultures

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