The son of a school bus driver and night janitor, Michael Marshall came to the University of the District of Columbia in 1975, with dreams of becoming an architect. After finishing a two-year program at UDC, Marshall went on to Catholic University and earned a master’s degree in architecture from Yale.
Next month, Marshall’s early ambitions at UDC will be physically realized in a new 83,000-square-foot building opening on campus that is his design.
“People will come off the Metro when they come here, and this is what they’ll see. This is what they’ll remember,” Marshall, 59, said.
The $63 million student center, which is scheduled to open Jan. 20, embodies a new direction for UDC. The combined community college and four-year university offers 49 undergraduate degree and certificate programs but has struggled in recent years, with lagging graduation rates, tortured finances and even construction delays that imperiled the future of the new centerpiece building.
The facility, which was supposed to open in 2013 and had original cost projections of $40 million, is a futuristic addition to the campus in Northwest Washington, along Connecticut Avenue in Van Ness.
“We’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about not only who we are but also who we want to be,” said UDC President Ronald Mason Jr., who took office in July. The student center “is a symbol of where we want to be.”
The result is Marshall’s design of a three-story facility constructed to LEED Platinum standards, which aim to reduce the building’s carbon footprint and energy usage.
Honeycomb aluminum fins attached to the building’s facade are meant to keep the sun from heating the building and will keep windows shady in the summer. A green roof with vegetation and storm drains will help keep the facility cool and catch rainwater for use in restroom toilets. The carpets are composed of recycled fibers. Reclaimed wood panels add a natural touch to the building’s glass, steel and concrete interior. All materials used in the construction originated from suppliers within 500 miles to reduce emissions in transit to the site.
The lofty main atrium reflects the building’s overall natural aesthetic with shades of earthen tones and glass panels tinted amber, gold and copper.
Aiming for the rigorous platinum standards “allowed us to be a beacon in the city for what buildings can strive for,” said Erik Thompson, UDC’s acting vice president for the office of facilities and real estate.
The building, at 4200 Connecticut Ave., also will serve as a gateway for people in the Van Ness community. Thompson described the building as the school’s new “front porch.”
“It’s where students, faculty and neighbors can come together to talk about the community,” Thompson said.
During a preview tour last week, Thompson said the building is in the final stages of construction. Workers were removing construction dust from the floors, and bricklayers were completing a front walkway.
The building boasts a mirrored yoga studio, offices for student government groups, and a lounge that will be stocked with video games and a pool table. The lounge faces a glass wall that exposes the school’s library stacks.
Thompson said that decision was quite purposeful: He hopes that students who will have been “playing pool for six hours or table tennis for six hours” might look into the library and consider hitting the books. Likewise, Thompson said, the lounge will offer students who have been “in the library for 13 hours” a welcome study break.
Marshall said the building’s design carries influence from a trip he took to Italy as a student at Catholic. A clock tower atop the student center is the focal point of a plaza where students will be able to sit on warm days, reminiscent of the famous Italian “piazzas” of Rome and Venice.
Marshall said he was drawn to architecture early in life, at age 11, when a friend showed him blueprints used for carpentry designs. Marshall said that he opted to enroll at a technical school, which became part of UDC in 1975, after hearing about the school’s design courses in a radio advertisement.
His grand, modern design for the student center is meant to evoke pride in UDC for the school’s 5,000 students as well as for alumni, Marshall said.
“It’s more than a mere office building,” he said.
Marshall noted that his mother once worked as a night janitor at the American Institute of Architects building in downtown Washington, a professional association of which Marshall is now a member.
To stand in the building he designed at UDC, about four miles away, Marshall said, “both professionally and personally, it’s a great honor and a privilege.”