The University of Colorado Boulder’s Village Center

By Dawn Henning

Opened in early 2017, the University of Colorado Boulder’s 113,000-square-foot Village Center Dining and Community Commons was built to serve the nearly 3,000 students living at the university’s Williams Village. Located adjacent to the university’s central campus with stunning views of the Flatiron Mountains, the new $49 million Village Center provides a modern student hub and state-of-the art dining venue with the latest in higher education foodservice trends. The site also contains entrepreneurial and administrative spaces, a health and counseling clinic, late-night café, and a 5,000-square-foot conference center.

The new Village Center was designed not only as a one-stop complex that meets all the needs of the students living in this part of the campus, but also as a world-class community center to enhance the overall living experience of Williams Village residents. Lounge areas, along with study alcoves and collaboration spaces, encourage students to take advantage of the facility for more than just meals.

Williams Village is home to two 1960s-era contemporary-style, high-rise residential towers, which are Boulder’s tallest buildings. These 15-story residential towers contrast with the Tuscan architecture of the main campus, which was established in 1876. Constructed in the shadow of the two 15-story residential towers, the new Village Center was designed to complement both the main campus aesthetic and the more modern character of the towers, while also serving as a counterpart to the towers’ immense height with a horizontal, progressive design.

“Like the builder of the vertical towers, we were not afraid to use large wall masses and glass, but for a horizontal presentation to contrast with the verticality of the towers,” says Chester Ehrig, senior associate and design director for KSQ Design in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the architectural firm for the Village Center. “The two projects work well together. We wanted to establish a match between the wall masses and the glass so students can look out and see the mountains. We created a series of placed masses ― brick complemented by precast and glass. When you look at the building, you can see that stacking, which reflects the mountains ― gigantic, visually stunning slabs coming out of the earth.”

The center’s massing and layout were driven around the program for the Village Center. Half of the facility is dedicated to dining, which was placed all on one level on the upper floor, while the other half of the program fits perfectly underneath.

“The conference center was placed on the southwest corner facing the mountains and given the elevation it needed,” Ehrig says. “That added height and volume to the dining space above it. The result is open, flowing and balanced — very functional, instilling institutional pride and fulfilling the client’s programs wonderfully.”

Students pass through an expansive, double-volume entrance lobby and up a grand staircase to the 52,000-square-foot second-floor dining space. This section of the center features numerous stand-alone stations that serve all-day breakfast, locally sourced food and international cuisine. Other highlights include blender bikes that allow students to mix their own smoothies, ample indoor dining spaces, outdoor eating terraces where students can enjoy unobstructed mountain vistas while gathered around a fire pit, and catering and teaching kitchens.

Aside from the requirement for massing that was appropriate to the towers, the university asked for the Village Center to take campus aesthetics to a new level while still relating to the context of its surroundings. The brick/precast/glass combination provided the optimal design solution for that prerequisite.

Hand-laid brick was desired for the new facility by both the university and the designers for its durability and aesthetics. “We wanted brick’s staying power,” Ehrig says. “By its very nature, it states that it’s going to be around a long time. Good clay that’s fired correctly ages beautifully and will outlast anything. The art of laying good brick results in good architecture and is gorgeous.”

Since the brick used on the towers is no longer manufactured, much time was spent selecting a brick that would coordinate with nearby buildings, yet also make an individual statement. More than 200,000 units of General Shale’s Monobuck modular brick, along with a custom-colored mortar, were chosen to match the university’s standard.

The Village Center was designed with sustainability in mind. Many of the windows feature electrochromic glass, which reacts to the amount of sunlight outside, reducing glare, as well as solar heat gain and heat loss. The facility’s many windows and skylights will eliminate the need for artificial lighting in the outer seating areas between the hours of 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. Additional sustainable elements include the use of local and recycled building materials; HVAC systems equipped with sensors to shut off heating and cooling in unoccupied rooms; rooftop solar panels; the university’s first biodigester to treat food waste; a 3,000-square-foot greenhouse with 140 8-foot aquaponic towers for providing fresh greens to the dining center; native landscaping plants; Energy Star-rated equipment; and low-flow water fixtures.

The facility’s designers are in the process of securing LEED Platinum certification for the project, which will make it the university’s third Housing & Dining Services facility to earn Platinum status.

Project Team:

Project Manager: CU Boulder Housing & Dining Services (Boulder, Colorado)

Architect: KSQ Design (Tulsa, Oklahoma)

Builder: GE Johnson Construction Company (Colorado Springs, Colorado)

Brick Manufacturer: General Shale (Johnson City, Tennessee)

Mason Contractor: Soderberg Masonry, Inc. (Fort Collins, Colorado)

Industry expert Dawn Henning has served as General Shale’s Director of Marketing since 2011. Headquartered in Johnson City, Tennessee, General Shale is the North American subsidiary of Wienerberger AG and a leading manufacturer of brick. For more information, visit