Georgia State University’s new College of Law building gives rise to the next generation of learning and law

By Don Eberly, president and CEO of Eberly & Collard Public Relations | civil + structural ENGINEER August 2016 Issue

Georgia State University College of Law

The seven-story, 205,000-square-foot Georgia State University College of Law building opened in 2015. Photo: ©Brian C. Robbins, Robbins Photography, Inc.

In today’s competitive college and university environment in which higher education leaders seek to enroll and engage top-ranking students, the Georgia State University College of Law is broadly recognized as a prominent institute of learning. With a long-standing reputation surrounding the excellence of learning in the field of law, administrators recently underwent the process of developing a new building for the college.

Design goals included developing an iconic presence and identity for the College of Law and the university. Designed as an intellectual and professional multi-use hub, it incorporates spaces for outreach and the broader community; encourages interaction and synergy; and creates a sense of professionalism and scholarship woven around a central collaboration space.

With an ambition to envision the school’s architectural and engineering design to physically portray the traits of leadership, learning, and scholarship as independent building forms, Georgia State University commissioned SmithGroupJRR as well as Stevens & Wilkinson, an architecture, engineering, and interior design firm based in Atlanta and Columbia, S.C., to design a school of learning far beyond the constraints of modest thinking. Rather, the progressive enterprise involved conceptualization of a new, state-of-the-art building provisioned for the transformation and encouragement of flexible learning environments.

Team of innovation

Administration, faculty, and leaders of the College of Law celebrated completion of the building at 85 Park Place, Atlanta, during a late- 2015 ribbon-cutting ceremony with state government and judicial leaders, alumni, and friends. Initial planning for the new College of Law began in spring 2011 when administrators decided to create the new high-tech learning environment with the most sophisticated equipment, adaptive learning design, and advanced engineering.

The SmithGroupJJR/Stevens & Wilkinson project team conceptualized and executed the design development for the exterior skin of the building as well as implemented the architecture and engineering to provide large assembly spaces, including a 230-seat moot courtroom and auditorium; an international arbitration center; and a 200-seat flexible-use conference center. The architects’ plan also involved large classrooms and seminar rooms designed to seat a variety of class sizes, including 25, 50, 80, and 90 seats.

Chief objectives for the project included supplying much-needed classrooms and multimedia learning space. The College of Law building was designed for collaboration, content sharing, and group learning. It quickly has become the heart of Georgia State University and a gathering place for both internal and external communities. Stevens & Wilkinson executed the construction documents and oversaw the construction phase based on the design plan created by SmithGroupJJR, which led the programming verification, benchmarking, and design concepts for the building envelope.

Along with project partner Harris+Smith and builder McCarthy Building Companies, the project team collaborated to design and deliver a leading-edge building of individual and joint learning that also offers students, faculty, and staff all the customary amenities necessary for institutional excellence.

Emphasizing Georgia State University’s vision, Ron Stang, AIA, LEED AP, chairman and a principal of Stevens & Wilkinson’s Atlanta office, said, “The new building is integral to the College of Law’s commitment to provide an excellent legal education to a diverse student body, to promote legal scholarship and service, and to capitalize on its unique Atlanta environment.”

The completed building features a three-story public gathering space in the lobby, a two-story active learning space, and a law library with reading and study rooms adjacent to an outdoor roof terrace on the sixth floor.

Domains of connectivity

The lower, below-grade level consists of a 6,000-square-foot, 230- seat moot courtroom and auditorium, which was designed for diverse uses, including practice jury or appellate court, learning, breakout, and legal proceeding areas. Audio/visual equipment and devices, including screens that can be lowered from the ceiling, were specified and installed for students to watch their moot court performances following learning and exercise sessions.

A conference center with movable walls used for catering and events, a suite of conference center offices, and hall of small and large clinic rooms surround the courtroom-auditorium on the lower level.

The ground level includes the learning commons, designed as a multi-use hub and the main organizational space in the building. The project team planned its central location on the floor to encourage collaboration and connections within the College of Law and broader community.

The learning commons acts as a gathering and study space, and provides walkable connections to areas created for public programs, including The Center for Clinical Programs, events, and the auditorium on a lower level. A skills suite was designed to include three courtrooms with breakout and deliberation space for simulation and experimental learning.

The ground level’s close proximity to Atlanta’s famed Peachtree Street was a purposeful design decision to be suggestive to and meaningful of area community. A bank of elevators and a wide staircase flanked by decorative glass panels lead to classrooms and collaboration spaces on upper floors.

Layout of Learning

Georgia State University College of Law

The building features a three-story public gathering space in the lobby. Photo: ©Brian C. Robbins, Robbins Photography, Inc.

A mirrored layout of learning spaces, meeting areas, and faculty offices was the concept for the second and third levels. These academic floors consist of large classrooms and seminar rooms with flexible learning settings and meeting rooms, commons, and support spaces for faculty.

Georgia State University College of Law

Academic floors include large classrooms and seminar rooms with flexible learning settings. Photo: ©Brian C. Robbins, Robbins Photography, Inc.

“The design setup is intended for content sharing for speakers, with cameras and advanced audio/visual equipment for learning and technology conveniences,” Stang said. “Built-in stairs connect the two floors, keeping these two similar levels of the building unified yet easily functional as separate spaces when needed.”

Because evolving pedagogy requires adaptive spaces for learning, Stevens & Wilkinson and the project team collaborated on 50-seat classrooms configured with multiple fronts and space flexibility. This provided for various layouts, such as for lectures, case-studies, active learning with content sharing, and peer-to-peer learning capabilities.

The fourth floor comprises an organized cluster of dedicated spaces for administrative and organizational purposes, for both faculty members and students. The dean’s suite, administrative, and registrar offices line the west side of the floor, while student organizations, the student bar association, and student trial lawyers association were positioned in the middle. Along the east side of the fourth floor are centers and institutes of learning designed with glass walls to create a sense of union, but with ample sound and space barriers.

Georgia State University College of Law Building Project Details

  • 205,000 square feet
  • Seven stories
  • Construction cost: $66 million

Key Facilities

  • 55 faculty offices and faculty meeting room
  • 850 seats in tiered lecture and seminar-style classrooms
  • Three skills suites
  • 230-seat moot courtroom and auditorium
  • Student organization spaces
  • Law library with 400 reader seats and conference workrooms
  • 200-seat flexible-use conference and event space with catering kitchen
  • Active learning areas with food service
  • Atlanta Center for International Arbitration and Mediation
  • Three-story community gathering space
  • Legal clinics
  • Dean’s offices

Smaller individual and group learning spaces and a moot court connect to the Atlanta Center for International Arbitration and Mediation. The center’s spacious seminar room was designed as a highly professional environment with sound privacy and flexibility of use.

Shining Example of Light and Law

Georgia State University – College of Law

Large classrooms and seminar rooms are designed to seat a variety of class sizes. Photo: SmithGroup JJR/Stevens & Wilkinson

The law building’s library sits on the fifth and sixth levels, which is the largest part of the overall concept. The library is made available only for Georgia State University law students and is designed with a variety of environments, such as study rooms, classrooms, a café, and an alumni reading room. It was designed to sit atop the building as a lit beacon, establishing a civic institutional identity among large Atlanta office towers.

“The law library includes a high-density, compact storage system for accessibility and preservation as well as conference and library workrooms,” Stang said. “Its glass box design style acts as an exterior expression for the entire building and equates to absolute quiet reading and study just a few floors above city streets.”

The sixth and top level includes an exterior garden terrace with native plantings and an interior reading room with a view overlooking the library and adjacent Woodruff Park. Study and reading rooms were conceptualized to flank instructional technology and lab review rooms available to students. To provide security and safety for the building at large, Stevens & Wilkinson engineered access control, turnstile systems, closed-circuit TV, and fire-rated glass.

In turn, hallways, classrooms, and offices were designed to take advantage of natural daylighting, shedding light on the next generation of lawyers, judges, and others who will study, develop, and apply law in the future.

Students attending the new College of Law benefit from a top-tier law education, and now this is embraced and broadened by the school’s architectural and engineering design, which relies profoundly on the domains of advanced science and technology. With the school’s constructive framework and substantial engineered technologies, students can be propelled further than the reaches of pragmatism to new models of instruction and edification.

DON EBERLY is president and CEO of Eberly & Collard Public Relations, a national firm specializing in writing and publicity within the architecture, design, and construction industries.

**This article originally appeared in the print and online versions of civil + structural ENGINEER’s August 2016 Issue.