University Student Center: The Heart of Campus
Among all the building types on an academic campus, the student center is inherently the most democratic – a building of the students, by the students, and for the students. It represents their collective bond to each other and to the university. It is a source of unity, a point of pride, and a catalyst for student success, both academically and socially. It truly is the living room of the campus and the heart of the university.
Originally constructed in 1964, the Lowman Student Center at Sam Houston State University (SHSU) has undergone numerous additions and reconfigurations during the past 55 years. In response to the growing enrollment and a goal of elevating amenities to better compete with peer institutions, EYP was selected in 2016 to design a larger, more inviting student center, breathing new life into this most crucial component of campus life. The first step was developing a holistic Master Plan to address the existing building’s fragmented and crowded character and to ultimately unite the entire facility. This key emphasis on unification will enhance the academic stature of the institution, drive further growth in enrollment, and provide an environment where students can thrive in all aspects of their experiences at SHSU.
EYP’s integrated design of the new, two-story 78,000-sf addition centers around a large atrium that serves as a central “living room” space, horizontally and vertically connecting the new and currently under renovation existing components of the building. Designed to maximize daylight and provide access to sweeping views, the addition houses food vendors and supporting dining facilities, and a relocated “Kat Klub” with pool tables, ping pong tables, an eight-lane bowling alley, and other such attractions on the first floor. The second floor features a large divisible ballroom, meeting rooms, pre-function spaces, lounges and other programmable amenities. The space between the addition and the existing building, connected together on one end by the atrium, defines a new outdoor courtyard where students can gather as an extension of the “living room.” Directly adjacent to the first-floor dining commons, the courtyard can also accommodate additional seating under large ceiling fans to further activate the space. Landscaping in the courtyard steps down from the western edge of the site toward the atrium entrance, creating a series of grassy platforms that can also serve as an outdoor amphitheater.
One of the first focal points for students and visitors, the reimagined Lowman Student Center is the new heart of the campus. Throughout the facility, designers intentionally incorporated elements of the SHSU brand – including inspiration from the school colors - through strategic wayfinding to foster pride, awareness, and a sense of place. The facility’s impact goes beyond the university setting, however. The new ballroom and gathering spaces are unlike anything else found in surrounding areas, and will be used by the larger community.
The student center’s design is about more than simply programming: the resulting unification is revitalizing the student center, ensuring that the university is exceeding its vision for future growth. A true partnership between EYP, the Division of Student Affairs and the broader Sam Houston State Community, the collective goal for the Lowman Student Center is nothing short of transformational—into a facility worthy of Sam Houston State University’s stature as one of the fastest growing universities in Texas.