For 50 years, the four squat dorm towers at the edge of Lake Osceola have been a University of Miami campus landmark, even if their stark accommodations are not exactly beloved by students.
Soon they will be nothing more than a nostalgic memory for many a UM grad.
The private university plans to demolish the towers, which make up the Stanford and Hecht residential colleges, and replace them with a sharply contemporary $260 million “village” that will seem positively opulent by comparison.
In a day when undergraduates, not to mention their parents, expect on-campus residential facilities loaded with amenities like private bathrooms, computer-gaming rooms and spaces for meditation, UM administrators have concluded the late-’60s vintage Brutalist-style towers are simply not up to snuff.
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The first phase of the planned new Centennial Village, which eventually will house 1,728 freshmen in four buildings, would break ground in 2020. That will happen following completion of an elaborate $155 million residential complex, the Student Housing Village, now under construction nearby on the south shore of Lake Osceola.
The new residential facilities — the word “dorm” is now shunned — represent a dramatic upgrade for the relatively young UM as it seeks to foment a livelier on-campus experience for its students and expand its on-campus undergraduate population.
Only 4,000 of its 10,500 undergraduates now live on campus, UM says, but the new residential colleges would add 1,000 beds by the time all work is completed in 2025 — the school’s 100-year anniversary.
The Centennial Village plan, unveiled by the university this week, comes amid a 15-year campus building spree designed to help vault UM into the top rank of U.S. universities. Recent additions include the massive Donna Shalala Student Center on Lake Osceola and a brand-new, cutting-edge studio building with a swooping roof for UM’s architecture school.
The Centennial Village residential complex is designed to better acclimate freshmen to college life and provide academic and social support to ensure they succeed at UM, administrators say. On the bottom floors of the four new planned buildings will be classrooms, conference and seminar rooms and “learning hubs,” the university said.
As UM’s academic standing rises and the school sheds its old Suntan U rep for good, administrators say such up-to-date on-campus living facilities are key to recruiting the brightest students and encouraging them to stay on campus during their college career.
“We want to attract talented students, and while it may not be the most important factor, the fact is they are going to spend a lot more time in the residential college than they are in the classroom,” said Jim Smart, director of UM housing. “They will be really living the university experience 24 hours a day.”
Centennial Village is now in final design work and permit applications have been filed with the city of Coral Gables, Smart said.
To avoid any loss of beds, UM’s plan is to begin demolishing Stanford residential college’s two towers in fall 2020 once the residential complex now under construction opens. The Centennial Village would go up in two phases. When that’s done, Smart said, the existing Eaton Residential College will vacated for extensive renovations to be completed circa 2025.
The four towers, though not architecturally distinguished, have been featured in innumerable UM brochures, and TV views and photographs of the university, Smart said. Students over the years have derided the towers for their monastic rooms and featureless exteriors, but many also harbor fond memories of camaraderie fostered by the close quarters, Smart said.
“They were places people loved to hate, and yet they look back on them with a great deal of nostalgia,” he said.
Both things are true, said Pete Hall, UM Class of 1982, who lived in one of the towers freshman year. He compares bunking down in the cramped, Spartan dorm to living in Communist housing behind the Iron Curtain.
“It was my first year living away from home,” said Hall, today an attorney in suburban Philadelphia. “These were kind of horrible. Tiny rooms, the tiny window, the shared bathrooms. It was like an Eastern European apartment block, but you look out the window and see a lake and palm trees, so it wasn’t all bad.”
To maintain a sense of intimacy, floors in the new buildings are designed to house students in single and double rooms in groups of 40 kids, Smart said. Faculty and staff will live on site.
The new complex, to be financed through university revenue, is being designed by VMDO Architects of Charlottesvile, Va., in collaboration with Miami’s Zyscovich Architects. VMDO, which specializes in education architecture and has designed projects at Clemson and the University of Virginia, won the commission for the project in a competition, UM said.
The design of the new buildings harkens back to the style, if not the no-frills form, of most of UM’s original dorms, built with loans from the Federal Housing Administration as the school rapidly expanded to accommodate former GIs who were enrolling in big numbers after World War II.
Before the war, UM had been in bankruptcy. Founded by Coral Gables developer George Merrick, the university had barely gotten off the ground when South Florida’s real estate boom collapsed. In its early years, it was housed in temporary quarters, earning the school the nickname of “cardboard college,” while the Merrick Building, originally designed in the Gables’ Mediterranean style, stood unfinished for years.
Because the present UM campus was developed after the war, it was the first American college to be built with a predominantly Modernist architectural look.
The post-war dorms were barracks-like structures designed by Miami architects Robert Law Weed and Marion Manley — one of the first licensed female architects in Florida — in the International Style, a rectilinear, clean Modernist look, though adapted for South Florida subtropical climate with breezeways and open staircases. Only some survive, including a set of buildings converted for use by the architecture school in the 1980s.
The four towers now set for demolition were built to handle continued expansion in the austerely utilitarian Brutalist style of the day and, because of their height, became a symbol of the university.
The buildings that will replace the 12-story towers will be shorter at nine floors and replicate the elongated forms and open breezeways of the old dorms.
A new path along the lake shore will connect to the Eaton residential college and the Student Housing Village, which comprises 25 interconnected buildings and includes retail space, a “launch pad” for student businesses, a 200-seat auditorium and a flexible “curated warehouse” space.
When completed, the residential master plan will create what UM administrators describe as a string of activity-filled, pedestrian-friendly university communities stretching from the University Village apartments along Red Road to the Mahoney and Pearson residential colleges on the north end of campus on Ponce de Leon Boulevard.