Higher education is a market in transition, with student needs and expectations changing and costs rising. Making a commitment to success for every student, John Tyler Community College proclaims themselves ‘Not What You’d Expect,’ and provides accessible, high quality education for students across more than 60 programs of study. The slogan is representative of JTCC’s approach to community college education at a time when such schools are growing, thanks in large part to their targeted professional programs, flexible schedules, and wallet-friendly price.

A relatively new campus in the state of Virginia, the Midlothian campus of JTCC is acutely aware of their role in the surrounding community in terms of resident education and cultural growth. In developing their newest academic building, they sought to create a facility that would foster community engagement and generate activity, which was accomplished in part by thoughtful siting of the building to create a defined edge establishing a new campus quad.

Through an iterative design process, Clark Nexsen team members collaborated with college representatives to challenge preconceived notions for the space and develop a truly dynamic facility. Now complete, the building program centers on a state-of-the-art black box theater and a first floor arcade with views to the quad.

The black box theater features seating for up to 200 and can be used for a variety of functions, both by the college and the community. It presents opportunities for students to train with high end equipment, rehearse, and is complemented by a modestly-sized catering kitchen. Seizing an opportunity to create architectural drama within the building, the theater and building are designed such that the materiality of the black box projects itself into the space via cut outs in the floors.

Beyond the theater, this multipurpose academic facility provides space for art, dance, and physical fitness programs as well as classrooms, offices, and study spaces. The transparency of the first floor arcade results in a bright, welcoming space where the activity of students and faculty is visible, enlivening this end of the quad. Supporting the indoor/outdoor connectivity of the building is the inclusion of a green outdoor teaching space on the third floor and the theater patio on the first floor. The outdoor classroom offers teachers and students a unique learning environment while the theater patio acts as an extension of the café and provides space for event receptions, further blending community and college activity.

This project was approached as a partnership between the JTCC and Clark Nexsen teams to create a truly unique building program and learning environment – supporting JTCC’s goals and reinforcing that they are “not what you’d expect.”

Awards
AIA Hampton Roads Honor Award, 2017