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Alumni gift enables construction of open-air pavilion

Exteriors | November 1, 2009 | By:

An open-air pavilion provides form and function for students and community alike

Richard and Pat Lawson made history at Oklahoma Christian University, Edmond, Okla., by pledging the largest alumni gift, $30 million, to the school in 2004. To honor their generous contribution and distinguished alumni status, the university requested the construction of a unique structure that would embody the many aspects of student life.

The university turned to TAP Architecture, a firm located in Oklahoma City, Okla., to work on the 720m2 Lawson Commons pavilion connecting university housing to the bustling student center. Along with providing a passageway for students, the university wanted to create an outdoor space where formal events and ceremonies could be enjoyed by university faculty and guests, as well as the local community. “The client’s close involvement in a long-range design process resulted in a truly successful outcome,” says Anthony McDermid, AIA, RIBA, principal architect of TAP Architecture.

To achieve the desired campus enhancements, TAP collaborated with Birdair Inc., Amherst, N.Y., to design the pavilion with a tensile structure to shield guests from the elements. The roof is made of Sheerfill® II fabric, which deflects solar energy and emits low levels of heat. “The fabric cover provides protection from Oklahoma’s sometimes hostile sun and rain but celebrates long light days and constant cooling breezes,” McDermid says. “The pavilion can be occupied in all but the most adverse of weather without any energy consumption.”

In addition to preventing the heat island effect and cutting down on energy costs associated with traditional event venues, the structure captures rainwater runoff to deter water from pooling on the roof. Excess water is routed from the corners of the structure to nearby landscaping, creating an eco-friendly irrigation system. Strong column structures keep the fabric stretched to proper tension, keeping the roof securely in place. During the construction of the structure, special attention was paid to the details of the bolts, which were installed to meet the safety and aesthetic demands of the design.

The pavilion received extra attention when the Lawson Commons project was named an official Oklahoma Centennial Project for vastly improving the university campus. The project also included new landscape and hardscape of the three-tiered mall area, as well as the erection of the Centennial Clock Tower, which spans 30.5m tall in juxtaposition with the pavilion. Several student activities and community events, including wedding ceremonies, are now held at the pavilion, which has been booked since the completion of the project. “The pavilion is essentially a student-centric space,” McDermid says. “It is playful, elegant, practical and, most importantly, has created a sense of place.”

Abbie Yarger is a freelance writer and editor based in Minnesota.

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