The unique gathering space will give a new layer of identity to the York campus, Murphy & Dittenhafer Architects President Frank Dittenhafer says.

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The Graham Center for Innovation and Collaboration won’t be the physically largest building on the Penn State York campus, but Murphy & Dittenhafer Architects is designing it to be huge psychologically.

It will sit on a hilltop between the Main Classroom Building and the Pullo Family Performing Arts Center, symbolically joining the campus to its surrounding community. Inside, large glass walls providing natural daylight will offer panoramic views of campus, York City and York County.

“It’s intentional,” says Frank Dittenhafer, II, FAIA, LEED AP, President of Murphy & Dittenhafer Architects. “It gives a sense of where you are and of what is beyond and adjacent to the campus — and perhaps to your life’s direction, as well.”

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While the building will no doubt be aesthetically beautiful, its functionality might be its most impressive feature. 

“This building will be adaptive and not one that says, ‘I am this and will only do one thing,’” says M&D Architect Blake Gifford. “That’s not a practical approach in this economy, and flexibility in design is important for today’s students.”

This unique gathering space for students, business mentors, and faculty is what’s behind this being a transformational project for the university.

“It’s giving a new layer of identity to the York campus,” Dittenhafer says, “and why President Eric Barron and so many people came from University Park for the groundbreaking.”

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Collaborative spaces are key

As M&D planned this structure, they listened to the end-user: Penn State students.

“In focus group sessions with several students, they noted their interest in having open, creative, and collaborative spaces at multiple scales,” Gifford says, “with abundant natural light and high ceilings, architectural elements that conveyed a sense of ‘professionalism.’”

Because this will be the home of the Graham Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership Studies, where students will meet with local business leaders, these spaces were deemed critical.

“Collaborative spaces, not necessarily a classroom with a door on it, but spaces where students are connecting and discussing before, after, and between classes are all built into this building,” says architect Todd Grove.

Meeting campus and community needs

Higher education is highly competitive, demanding campuses stay current to attract students, but much of Penn State York’s campus was built in the 60s and 70s.

“The buildings still serve well but are red-brick institutional,” Gifford says. “Any departure from this makes a progressive statement, and this building will make a statement for the York campus.”

Grove agrees, adding: “There are continuously new ideas about how students best learn, so flexible spaces are key, because there will be more changes in two or five years.”

M&D also designed this center to serve York County’s growing business community as today’s leaders mentor tomorrow’s.

“There’s investment in York County and City that wasn’t happening 20 years ago, and the Graham Center is meant to be part of this area’s burgeoning success,” Gifford says.

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Building key to campus’ flexible future

M&D’s focus in designing this unique structure keeps coming back to future flexibility.

Different seating arrangements — small tables and chairs, large tables and chairs, lounge type sofas—are part, but not all, of this.

“Flexibility is not just multi-purpose spaces that can be rearranged, but multiple sizes of rooms, fixed spaces providing multiple uses,” Gifford says.

“It’s not a typical classroom building, so it shouldn’t look like a typical classroom building,” adds Grove.

Indeed, Dittenhafer sees many types of learning among students, faculty and business leaders taking place here.

“It’s to be a place for innovation and collaboration, an open-ended exploratory platform,” he says. “The timing for this is perfect, with a wide cross section of business leaders in York County interested in working with and helping students advance their passions.”

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