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New Home for U of U Students Hearkens Historic Themes

Artist's rendering of Honors Housing.

March 23, 2011 – In ancient Greece, philosophers gathered at the Akademia, where they developed theories about such things as the natural world, the origins of the universe and man, the virtues of justice and our ability to reason. In the Middle Ages, a piazza – formed by the towers and arcades of a walled city-state – acted as a central place for communication, where thoughts and goods were exchanged, where alliances among the inhabitants of the community were formally announced.

These concepts are keenly represented in the proposed design of a new residential complex that will house students in the University of Utah’s Honors College. A ground-breaking for the Donna Garff Marriott Honors Residential Scholars Community will be held on Wednesday, March 30, 2011, from 3:30 – 5:00 p.m. at the west end of the George S. Eccles 2002 Legacy Bridge on the U campus.

The first phase of the 161,000-square-foot structure-to be located at the corner of Mario Capecchi and South Campus Drives-will provide apartment-style living for 310 students and resident advisors, a common gathering space and meeting areas.

“Research shows that relationships with fellow students and friends, dedicated faculty and staff greatly affect students’ chances of succeeding in higher education,” says Martha Bradley, dean of the Honors College. “The new housing is designed for that very purpose -creating the opportunity for community. We aim with this building to engage our students, who will learn in the same place they live, in a more holistic way.”

First-year student Tianna Tu calls her experience in honors housing “invaluable.” An English and political science major, Tu says, “being near students that have similar educational goals makes the transition from high school a wonderful experience.”

The design of the new structure uses Italian-influenced towers to mark communal spaces in the building. One, known as Fireplace Tower, is centrally located in a large community hub called Honors Commons. The commons will provide an indoor area, complete with a fireplace, study and dining spaces, and a convenience store. In addition to this interior common area, an exterior plaza is planned that will provide a grassy area for recreation with a barbeque and outside furnishings.

The residential wings surrounding the common area are designed to promote a feeling of connection to the university and the college. The first floor will house a room called the “Big Ideas Room,” two seminar areas, a library and music room and offices. Like in the ancient Akademia, older students will mentor younger students. It is thought this structure will help foster student relationships and expose students to new opportunities for research or work in the community.

“The university has been historically a commuter campus, which makes it imperative that we create ways for students to connect on campus, engage in meaningful community work and participate in challenging academic activity. The new honors housing in addition to the proposed student life center, just north of the honors residence, will provide tremendous opportunities for our students,” Bradley says.

The building also will be close to the Fort Douglas TRAX stop for easy access to downtown businesses.

Bradley says the centerpiece of the building’s design is based on the honors “hallmark philosophy of engaged learning,” which promotes education outside of the traditional classroom and encourages students to work alongside faculty scholars, with community partners and even to design their own research projects so that they may affect society as a whole.

“This remarkable residential scholars community will stand as the next important step toward the greatness of the Honors College and the university as a whole,” says Michael K. Young, president of the University of Utah. “Thanks to the Marriott family and its profound generosity, our honors students will now have the opportunity to immerse themselves quite literally into an active and inspired community of educational excellence.”

The current phase of construction of the Donna Garff Marriott Honors Residential Scholars Community is expected to be completed in June 2012. Eventually, the residence will hold 1,800 beds, according to Bradley.