When Lorain County Community College was founded in 1963, its campus in Elyria, Ohio was built to accommodate 6,500 to 7,000 students. By this century, those numbers had doubled and the students’ needs had changed, but the campus’s design had not been reconsidered in any significant way since the 1970s. The school’s leadership decided it was time to invest in infrastructure, but a broader masterplan for the future was needed.
understanding how students learn today
Boston-based Sasaki Associates was hired to first develop the comprehensive campus masterplan, and its sustainable scheme called for one new building and renovation of a series of others. The eight-year project, led by principals Bryan Irwin and Katia Lucic, culminated in the conversion of the nearly 50-year-old library, a rabbit warren of book stacks, dark offices, and blind corridors into iLoft, a bright, progressive learning center designed to adapt to an evolving academic culture.
During the research phase, Sasaki worked with the college’s learning space design team to define how today’s students learn through, unplanned interactions. “It’s more about group work now, and the ability to move away from the instructor as sage and more as a mentor who guides you through the learning process,” says Laura Carissimi, director of purchasing and facilities planning at the college. Another goal for the designers was to help mitigate the college’s low student retention rate. Research shows students are most successful when they engage more with peers and faculty, as well as spend more time on campus—a real challenge on a commuter campus. And the renovation had to be durable and flexible. “Public education doesn’t get a lot of chances to do this kind of thing,” says Carissimi. “You get your one shot every 30 to 40 years—we wanted it to last, to be fun, and to encourage students to study, learn, and use the spaces.”
ensuring students and faculty have choices
Irwin, Lucic, and their team kept the old library’s exterior skin, roof, and columns, but gutted the rest of the two-story building. For each floor, they designed two rows of classrooms that flank the north and south sides. Adjacent to those classrooms are glass-fronted study rooms. The classrooms’ walls are flexible and can easily be adjusted to absorb the study spaces to create larger, more open classrooms.
Prior to the renovation, campus classrooms typically seated 20 students in fixed armchairs. iLoft’s rooms seat 30 to 40 students in flexible environments. All chairs and tables are on casters for mobility, and the layout of floor outlets ensures students can plug in wherever they roll. (The building’s WiFi access furthers this goal.) There are four potential locations in each classroom for docking the technology-packed instructor’s station. Outside the classrooms, students can work at Corian study counters that flip down into benches or within Corian-clad niches carved into walls. “Everyone can find a home,” says Irwin. “It’s not one size fits all.”
Large, collaborative commons occupy iLoft’s middle: The Teachers’ Resource Center on the ground floor is a drop-in, self-serve library of materials and technology for teachers in the community and students pursuing degrees in education, while on the second floor, a low, amoeba-shaped wall clad in beech veneer delineates the technology-rich Learning Oasis. Soft-seating areas are available for groups of students to come together and work on the same screen while accessing the same software.
The east and west ends of the building are dedicated to faculty offices and workstations for adjunct faculty on one side and a student lounge on the other. During the day, when the faculty suite is open, teachers make their way through the students’ collaborative space to get to their offices. Thus, the teachers and students interact more
readily: The building is a celebration of community. “There is no hallway where things happen behind closed doors,” says Lucic. “You realize quickly you’re not alone.” Glass walls, windows, and skylights are strategically placed so that the sky is visible from most locations inside. The palette—a sea of white with accents of happy hues and pale
woods—is uplifting, as are the curvilinear lines. “It’s an optimistic space that supports the notion that opportunities are endless,” says Irwin.
For all the activity going on in the busy building, everyone agrees the place feels serene, from the light to the sound quality. Sasaki worked with an acoustician to ensure there was no cacophony. “There is a nice buzz of activity,” says Irwin, “a feeling that work is being done. It feels like you’re part of something bigger.”
Key design Highlights
A midcentury library is fully
renovated into a learning center
meeting today’s needs.
A variety of study spaces include
enclosed rooms, open counters,
and custom nooks.
Students’ collaborative spaces
are near instructors’ offices for
Daylight penetrates strategically
placed glass walls, windows, and
An amoeba-shaped, technology-
rich Learning Oasis is central to
the plan for group or individual
Lorain County Community College iLoft
Lorain County Community College
88,127 square feet on two floors
Architect and interior designer: Sasaki Associates. Architecture project team: Bryan Irwin,
AIA; Katia Lucic, AIA; Jen Imbaro, IIDA; Tala Klinck, AIA; Brendan Rogers. Interior design project
team: Bryan Irwin, AIA; Katya Lucic, AIA; Jen Imbaro, IIDA. Contractor: Ozanne Construction
Company Inc. Consultants: Clark & Post Architects (associate architect). Lighting: Tillotson Design Group. Engineering: Karpinski Engineering (electrical, mechanical); LKL Engineers (structural). Acoustician: Acentech.
Wallcoverings: Arbor Series Wood Veneers. Paint: Devoe; Glidden. Laminate: Formica. Walls: CertainTeed (dry); Cushwa (masonry); Hufcor (movable). Flooring: Daltile (ceramic); Interface (carpet); Johnsonite (resilient). Lighting: Bartco (fluorescent/industrial); Bega (pendants/chandeliers); Gammalux (recessed); Louis Poulsen (semi recess); Vode (task); Zumtobel (core glass backlight). Doors: Marshfield Signature Series. Hardware: Corbin Russware; LCN; National Guard; Rockwood; Stanley; Von Duprin. Glass: Kawneer Aluminum Framing (architectural); KI (decorative); Oldcastle Glass (architectural). Window treatments: Mecho-Shade. Seating, tables, storage systems: by owner. Architectural millwork: DeLeers Millwork.