Holland Hall | Embodiment of a Vision at St. Olaf College

November 13, 2017

In November 2017 we traveled to St. Olaf College to attend the dedication ceremony of a building that I had helped design. What made the project particularly special was that it was a renovation of an academic building at my alma mater, St. Olaf College. She had good memories of taking classes and meeting with professors in the former building and it is a sacred space for me in many ways.


Constructed in 1922 with a beautiful limestone Collegiate Gothic exterior, the interior had undergone a renovation in the 1960s that chopped up the interiors and limited access to light. It was a joy to work with the campus Design and Construction team, Boldt Construction and subcontractors, as well as talented Perkins+Will colleagues, to imagine how the building could be transformed in a renovation. Because I left Perkins+Will in the midst of design development in January 2016, I was not involved in the project for a year and a half, and I was eager to see which design elements had made it through the final design and construction process.


Read more about the renovation and view professional and exterior images on the St. Olaf website.




Our work together led to the development of a vision statement for the project that guided decision making and prioritization throughout the design and construction process:


The reimagined Holland Hall will be a light-filled, collaborative, balanced, and adaptable learning environment that inspires students, faculty, and staff to forward the scholarly enterprise for years to come. The renovation of this distinctive campus treasure will revitalize the iconic character and authenticity of the building while providing for the learning spaces and technology of the future and make it the first stop of campus tours, visiting alums, and the community.


It was gratifying to visit and see that the vision statement had been brought to life in the final project. Putting my Religion Major hat on, the building was truly an embodiment of that vision shared by so many people. I have come to realize that the process of creating a vision which the stakeholders and design and construction team all feel ownership of is one of the most critical pieces of the design process.




One of the things I love about St. Olaf is the sense of tradition and ritual brought to everyday life. While I was a student, we had a dedication ceremony for the new composter, for example, complete with prayer and song. So I knew I couldn't miss this one for Holland held during Homecoming weekend.


The ceremony did not disappoint, with thoughtful words, prayers for future use of the building for good purposes, and ending with a rousing rendition of Um Ya Ya, the only college fight song in 3/4 time. It was a meaningful surprise to hear the vision we had worked together so long ago to create being read as part of the ceremony. A good reminder that words have meaning well beyond the time they are written.


Enjoying the dedication reception in the new Holland Commons with Abby Meuser-Herr



Scholarly, not Corporate

A recurring theme of meetings with faculty and students was the desire to make this project distinctively academic and full of personality. I was delighted to see that one particular item meant to showcase the 'scholarly enterprise' had made it through the value engineering process: deep windows at every faculty office that include a bookshelf. We collaborated to develop this concept with the intent of meeting the competing needs for visual safety and privacy while also bringing character into the building and lessening any 'institutional' feel. The diversity with which professors utilized the shelves was fun to explore.



Learning Environments

I enjoyed the challenge of finding spaces within the existing building with appropriate size per student, ratio of length to width, and daylighting for twenty first century classrooms. This was particularly difficult given an existing building in the shape of an 'H' with no standard column spacing.


The design team had many good conversations about what made an ideal classroom. The desire for flexibility was a consistent theme. In this active learning classroom, students can work at pods of six with individual monitors, or the desks can be split apart for test taking and individual work. The professor can project to a central screen that drops down to cover the window at right, and/or display the same images at each of the monitors.




Informal Study Space

A major change in the renovation was the addition of informal study space, a trend across campuses made possible by laptops and WiFi that weren't available more than about two decades ago. Because we had worked with Sociology students to survey current students on their classroom and informal study space preferences, we knew that there was a desire for not only large open study commons, but a variety of levels of quiet, privacy, lighting, and furniture. The study suggested a preference for large tables with one level of separation from circulation corridors - near activity but not distracted by it.


Variety of study space in the Holland Hall renovation can be found in terms of location in the building, daylight, views, acoustics, proximity to activity, furniture, and finish. I recommend a visit if you are interested in seeing multiple approaches to study space in-person.










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