Tulane’s new Mussafer Hall was custom designed for staff and student success
Photos by Sara Essex Bradley
The design team exposed and refinished the original arched windows in the older building and created informal study or meeting areas.
For the team and stakeholders behind the newly dedicated Mussafer Hall at Tulane University, success was literally the inspiration, focus and end result of the project’s design. The Center for Student Success — in a building renamed Mussafer Hall after Tulane alumnus David Mussafer, who gave $5 million to fund the project — houses the Academic Advising Center, Career Services and the Success Center.
“The concept behind it was, ‘How do we make it easier for students to connect their academic plan and career plan?’” says Dr. Amjad Ayoubi, senior associate dean, career services, academic advising and athletic advising. “As a student goes through four years or more of college, [by connecting the two] they would know all along to have their eye on the present and eye on the future.”
Ayoubi says even after merging the academic advising and career services departments, there were still obstacles in the way of getting people to work together, because they were scattered in different buildings on campus.
“Someone said that ‘in college, everything inside the classroom should be challenging; everything outside should be easy’,” says Ayoubi. “We knew that if we were in the same building the staffer could easily bring the student directly to the next person they need to see, eliminating one of the stressors that doesn’t need to be there.”
Formerly known as “Building 9,” Mussafer Hall is located on the academic quad and was designed in 1901 in Dutch Renaissance style by Andry and Bendernagel. It was built in 1902. The building was originally the university’s first dormitory, then later home to the Social Sciences Building, Arts and Sciences classrooms and, until 2014, the School of Social Work. The original, 15,100-square-foot space, which saw its last renovation in 1959, underwent an extensive renovation that served to update it and merge it — both physically and visually — with a new, 7,500-square-foot addition and 900 square-foot second floor terrace.
Known for their expertise in both historic preservation and restoration, as well as contemporary and modern design, the architectural team at StudioWTA created a striking limestone-and-stucco-clad addition that is modern, but with painstaking attention given to details. All at once, it both stands out and fits well with the building it’s attached to, those surrounding it and the verdant quad, thereby creating a visual metaphor for the merging of the departments housed inside.
“A lot of the [nearby] buildings are masonry with punched openings,” says architect and StudioWTA partner Julie Babin. “This [new] building is made with a lot of glass, so in the evening it glows and draws the students like a beacon ... It’s almost a triangle shape. A lot of the geometry is responsive to the building and the tree.”
Babin is referring to both nearby Cudd Hall and what she says is the only oak tree on campus that was allowed to grow naturally.
“In urban conditions, you are used to having buildings to consider as your surrounding neighbor, but in this case it was also the tree,” she says.
Babin says elements such as the raised terrace, which has landscape planters with plants spilling over the edge, and the rain gardens around the perimeter of the building are part of the sustainability plan. The building is expected to receive Tulane’s minimum requirement of a Silver LEED certification, but might achieve Gold.
Inside, institutional beige walls and hard floors (in the same color), ubiquitous in most universities, give way to gallery-white walls donning vibrant, commissioned artwork in the hallways; welcoming lounge and study areas featuring colorful, modern furniture; naturally lit offices; and comfortable, softly lit advising rooms.
“One thing I wouldn’t compromise is making sure every staff member office had a window,” says Ayoubi. “It has made a big difference. I knew it was important, but I see it in people.”
Babin says she is glad they were able to carry the exposed brick of the original building over into the lobby and that the original arched windows were refinished and exposed. The well-lit areas around the latter serve as seating areas for informal meetings or studying.
Emily Bonenfant, an International Development and Environmental Studies double major completing her senior year says she has been spending a lot of time in the building.
“This is a really interesting space, because I do have specific appointments with my academic advisor and career advisor,” says Bonenfant. “But, it has been nice to have a space where I can bump into them as well ... It’s also a really great space for studying for midterms. It’s an easy place to stop by. It’s clean and quiet. This has been my study spot discovery of the semester.”
The new Mussafer Hall at Tulane University houses the Academic Advising Center, Career Services and the Success Center. The 7,500-square-foot addition and 900 square-foot second floor terrace, plus renovation to the the 15,100-square-foot existing building No. 9 were designed by StudioWTA.
At a Glance
Tulane University’s Mussafer Hall
Tulane Campus, St. Charles Avenue, Academic Quad
Dedicated on Sept. 28, 2018
15,100-square-foot historic building; 7,500-square-foot addition, with 900 square-foot second floor terrace
To combine Academic Advising Center, Career Services and the Success Center under one roof and allow a flexible space for advising, meeting and study.
Building the addition into a somewhat triangular plot between two buildings and the only live oak on campus that has been allowed to grow naturally.
The modern exterior of the building and its terrace and rain gardens.
The terrace in the addition provides outdoor seating and includes landscape planters with plants spilling over the edge. There are various lounge areas throughout both buildings that serve as gathering and meeting or study areas.
The design team fought to keep the stairwell open to the lobby in order to create a more welcoming entry.
The second floor terrace provides additional outdoor space for meetings, studying and breaks. It further allows the connection between indoors and outdoors, so students and staff can enjoy the surrounding quad.