Located in a culturally rich city, UNC Asheville’s commitment to the arts is aligned with its surroundings. With the Departments of Arts and New Media housed in an aging Owen Hall, the University partnered with Clark Nexsen to reimagine the brutalist-style building and create an environment that is inspiring for artistic students and faculty. In addition to aesthetic and functional design challenges, the facility is accessed through a wooded area and feels disconnected from the activity of the nearby campus quads. With no main entry and little natural light penetrating the building, significant renovations are needed to enhance the building’s identity and appeal as a home for the arts.

The design solution will establish Owen Hall as a distinct and memorable arts education facility. A new sculpture park will define the path from the nearest quad to the building, putting art on display and supporting connectivity to campus. A new main entry features extensive glazing and opens into a three-story atrium with a skylight, adding substantial daylight throughout the facility and defining the new circulation path.

At each level of the three-story atrium, new galleries will be created to display the work of students, faculty, and visiting artists. With UNC Asheville’s undergraduate programs uniquely distinguished by a significant research requirement, these galleries will play an important role in the recruitment of prospective arts students as they highlight how that research culminates in a solo art show for every graduating senior.

Housing programs for the traditional and digital arts including sculpture, ceramics, drawing, and photography, the renovation will create more engaging studio and instructional space and a new kiln yard. One of the central challenges of this project was the desire to capture increased square footage to accommodate the growing arts program, but the funding required the design to stay within the existing footprint. The design team overcame this challenge by capturing the building’s numerous overhangs as new learning space without increasing the overall footprint of Owen Hall.

Reducing energy consumption and consistently ranking first or second among UNC system universities for energy usage are priorities to UNC Asheville. Through its renovation, Owen Hall is projected to use 15 percent less energy than an average classroom building and is tracking LEED Silver.