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Sam Houston State University

Huntsville, TX

Building community through shared space

More than half a century as the heart of the university, the Lowman Student Center has been rejuvenated as the “campus living room” at Sam Houston State University community.

Renovations and an 80,000-square-foot expansion have reshaped the building into a welcoming, safe and flexible facility that includes a ballroom, book store, student gaming area and lounge, dining commons and a variety of meeting and hang-out spaces.

Students are moving furniture around and creating dyads, triads and pockets of engagement where they are having these conversations. The MyWay furniture in the majority of our lounge spaces was specifically selected because of the wide variety of ways in which students can interact with the space.

Rob Webber, Director Lowman Student Center

The center is airy and fun with a relaxed vibe. Natural light from large windows floods the building. Rich pantone-matched upholsteries from Pallas Textiles add vibrant colors to furnishings and bring spaces to life. The carefully-crafted custom fabrics establish a cohesive and modern feel throughout the building.

Lounge areas, nooks and an eight-lane bowling alley offer places to connect in an environment alive with activity. Meeting rooms provide campus organizations intentional gathering places, while also serving as areas where individuals and small groups can complete work and quietly study.

The inclusion of meaningful gathering places is an increasingly common discussion between designers and clients, said Alyssa VanDierendonck, a junior interior designer with EYP Architecture & Engineering in Houston who worked on the project. Around the country, colleges and universities are looking at ways to connect students to the campus as part of attraction and retention efforts.

And at Sam Houston State, it shows.

Tables fill quickly at meal times, mixing friends with strangers. It’s not uncommon to see students making introductions and having chance conversations while sitting at KI’s Pillar and Athens tables.

As a staff, we have to be more intentional about creating opportunities for gathering. But sitting around a table having a meal together is probably one of the best ways to build community.

Rob Webber, Director Lowman Student Center

These spontaneous encounters are augmented by spaces and furniture designed to bring people together. Prominently situated on the first floor, the Kat Club game room provides students a place to play video games, watch sports on one of 27 high-definition televisions or connect with other students through karaoke and hosted game tournaments. A second-floor coffee house and art gallery offer students a variety of spaces and ways to interact with each other and immerse themselves in campus culture.

To support these spaces, KI furniture is strategically placed to engage students, from open collaborative areas with café-height gathering tables and Doni café stools to individual study or focus nooks with Sway Lounge Chairs. Markerboard tabletops throughout the space are frequently used by students to collaborate on mathematical formulas, flesh out ideas for project work or even just to leave positive and uplifting comments for passersby.

People love the furniture, they love the space, they love the color, they love the comfort and flexibility of the entire center. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.

Rob Webber, Director Lowman Student Center

Students are loving the changes at the Lowman Student Center. Room reservations are up 44 percent and user traffic has increased almost 100 percent since renovation and expansion.

“We’ve come to the point where our student center feels like a place where people can gather and be,” Webber said.

And as their home away from home, that’s precisely what it should be.

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