Penn State York – Graham Center (Preliminary Concept)

Penn State York – Graham Center (Preliminary Concept)

From the Pullo Center to designing its new innovation building, Penn State York often turns to Murphy & Dittenhafer Architects to keep the buildings on its campus up to date.

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Evolution is constant at Penn State York, a campus of about 1,000 commuter students. And much of the change bears the mark of Murphy & Dittenhafer Architects of York, Pennsylvania, and Baltimore.

The firm has designed the Pullo Family Performing Arts Center, the Lee R. Glatfelter Library; the Swenson Engineering Center; and the Lair, a place for students to hang out.

Its relationship with the school is special to Frank E. Dittenhafer II, FAIA, LEED AP of the firm. He is a Penn State University graduate and sits on the board of the College of Arts and Architecture’s subgroup for architecture at Penn State. He is a representative of that group to the College of Arts and Architecture’s Alumni Society board.

“I’m not just an alum, I’m a very supportive and active alum. I bleed blue and white,” he says. “So, doing actual architectural work for Penn State feels great. There’s a real sense of connection and pride.”

The feeling is mutual.

“We thoroughly enjoy working with them,” says Holly Gumke, director of business services at the branch campus. “They are very responsive to our needs and are great listeners. They understand budget limitations and are good at figuring out what they can do with our limited resources.”

A place to succeed

The firm’s most recently completed project is the 2,500-square-foot Nittany Success Center. The architects transformed the top floor of the Glatfelter Library in the Pullo Center building into a bright and open but still private setting for students to take tests and receive academic coaching.

“When students need assistance with classes they’re taking, that’s where they end up,” Gumke says. “It’s very light, very bright, with a fantastic view. It’s a very nice marriage with the library. Students love it.”

The center was located in a classroom, making private conversations and testing difficult.

The new space has computers, soft seating, rooms for testing, staff offices, and areas for faculty members to meet. It includes three group study rooms.

“The users of the library want to come in and use this space,” Dittenhafer says. “It doesn’t have any stigma” and is “very dignified.”

That result is thanks to the design work by Dittenhafer and architect Matt Deitrich, as well as the creative eye of interior designer Lisa Clemens of Murphy & Dittenhafer Interiors.

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“The biggest challenge was finding a way to create both an open feeling while maintaining necessary privacy for the tutoring center within the limited space available,” Deitrich says.

That was achieved by using large glass panels in aluminum frames to allow natural light to pass through small offices and private spaces and reach the center’s open areas.

Clemens’ interior design set the tone for the center’s physical and emotional comfort level. She says the space has “more of a homelike sense instead of an institutional feel.”

“One of the things I think they really gained in this project is that a lot of light still reaches the interior, even though it had to incorporate smaller offices along the perimeter,” she says. “It still feels very light, bright, and cheerful.”

The center has lockers for students to stash their belongings, plus a corner with coffee and a refrigerator.

Students can sit at study tables, plug in their laptops along a counter with stools, or relax in lounge chairs around a glass coffee table.

“Students study differently, and they want to be mobile. They want to have choices in where they sit,” Clemens points out.

Finding cost efficiencies

The fact that the Success Center had to be completed on a limited budget wasn’t a drawback.

“We like having cost parameters put on these projects that make you incorporate that into your design thinking right out of the gate,” Dittenhafer explains. “We’ve learned how to work with the building, not against the building, to make really smart decisions.”

“We actually had some savings in the project and were able to do a little more in terms of furnishings,” Gumke adds. “Every penny counts, and to have a firm that works with us is great.”

Penn State York is continually updating its facilities to meet the needs of students, Gumke says. Murphy & Dittenhafer is at work designing the Graham Center for Innovation and Collaboration, which will support entrepreneurial studies.

“We really value what they do,” Gumke says of the architectural firm. “The fact that they have been selected many times speaks very highly of their technical expertise. They have a great way of working with people and understand what a client is looking for and translating that into a successful project.”