Forming a nutritious meal plan and a campus plan are not so different in execution. Both involve understanding context, problems to be solved, and having the foresight to provide solutions with efficiency, ingenuity, and durability to improve human lives. Mitchell Hall in Columbus, Ohio is one of the few instances where programming and design intersects nutrition and design. This $34.5 million project, near the heart of Columbus State Community College’s campus and Columbus’ Discovery District, has exemplified how an early collaborative planning process with like minded approaches can enhance greater communal living. Similarly, for those who know the site history, it has become a great lesson in showing how quality architecture is never a straight path; ultimately, it takes the right combination of skill, leadership, perseverance, and good fortune to arrive at the desired solution.
At the very beginning, bringing social equity to the northeast corner of downtown Columbus was viewed as a benchmark for a successful project. There were historical reasons for this. Before Columbus State had taken root in the Discovery District, the campus was previously the home of Aquinas College High School which served the black neighborhoods in nearby Hanford Village and King-Lincoln/Bronzeville. Between 1936 and 1952, redlining of districts started to occur which zoned out “declining” and “high risk for mortgage” neighborhoods. The 1952 Highway Act set the groundwork for the development of I-71 and I-670 in 1966 and 1975, respectively (two main roadways still in use today by current residents). The new development removed entire blocks directly north and east of the high school and greatly impacted the African American community in Central Ohio. As described by Erica Thompson of the Columbus Dispatch, the highways represented a “colossal example of institutional racism and harm to Black communities.” (cite: Columbus Dispatch, Dec. 3, 2020 “How Highways Destroyed Black Neighborhoods in the ‘60s” by Erica Thompson)
In 1963, the high school and surrounding area was converted into Columbus Area Technician’s School and was eventually renamed the Columbus Technical Institute in 1965. In 1987, the 70-acre campus came to its current name, Columbus State, and has since grown beyond city limits, operating at 6 additional off-site campuses with 27,000 students enrolled. By no means small and with diverse enrollment, Columbus State has played an integral role in healing previous racial divisions within the city.
Recently, the school’s own growth was accelerated by a generous donation from Cameron Mitchell for the development of a state-of-the-art center for hospitality and culinary education. Seeing the potential for the project to provide social equity, Columbus State engaged DesignGroup as architect of record to bring value to Columbus State and the public at-large. Situated at the intersection of Cleveland Avenue and Mt Vernon Avenue, DesignGroup sought to connect both routes through open spaces and setbacks that would allow for a natural flow from campus to a redeveloped Cleveland Avenue. “We wanted to improve the streetscape by giving them parallel parking, buried power lines, providing turn lanes, and medians,” DesignGroup’s Education Market Leader Ben Niebauer indicated, adding, “it was important to add cross traffic along Cleveland Avenue while providing dining seating not directly up against heavy traffic.” The culinary center itself would similarly act as a thoroughfare to connect previously severed portions of Mt. Vernon, thereby making progression seamless into the campus from the west.
To anchor the underlying design principles of opportunity, equity and integration, Mitchell Hall’s center was conceived by DesignGroup as a three-story naturally lit hub that would double as a meeting space and as a link between the campus and the Discovery District surrounding. Collaboration and meeting spaces were strategically located at the lower levels to help engage the student community, improving culinary education and better recruitment/retention for potential future students and faculty. An adjacent, supplementary program was identified that reinforced the hub: a 80-seat teaching restaurant, a bakery with cafe, and on-display production kitchens were all provided to draw students and locals in at the lower levels. Upper-floor teaching kitchens with sculleries, a mixology studio with integrated wet bar, and a culinary theatre further enhanced the notion that wherever you were in Mitchell Hall opportunity would be just around the corner. “Mitchell Hall is a wonderful example of the work done every day in Columbus to create a vibrant and collaborative community,” said Lorne Eisen, RA, LEED AP BD+C and principal at DesignGroup.
Construction for the building followed suit, striving to make connections between food waste reduction and facility sustainability. Spearheaded by Mitchell Hall’s Director of Operations Joshua Wickham, a food recovery hierarchy pyramid acted as a plan to identify preferable routes for responsible food production and usage. The pyramid underscored multiple programmatic elements for design, including stem-to-root usage, responsibly moving food between departments, providing locations for both internal staff family meals, and food donations to area shelters. Given the strong partnership between Columbus State, DesignGroup, and the construction manager Gilbane, responsible recycling and food composting was tackled well before project completion.
As responsible food resourcing improved design, the design team’s commitment to sustainability resulted in Mitchell Hall being awarded with a LEEDv4 Certified status, earning 46 points in total. The project scored particularly well on many items that were addressed as key features in design, including indoor water use reduction, enhanced and envelope commissioning, optimizing energy performance and providing quality views throughout to improve user experience. 10 of 11 points in the Water Efficiency category were earned, highlighting the need for responsible water usage throughout the project.
As a site, in addition to delivering diverse uses to the Discovery District, Columbus State contracted with local transit authorities to provide immediate access to Mitchell Hall. Previous parking was removed from the surrounding site as result and the Mt. Vernon quadrangle subsequently grew in scale, opening the landscape for vegetation and pervious pavement.
Through innovation, collaboration, and planning for equity, connections and longevity, Mitchell Hall has achieved a better future than what could be envisioned fifty years ago. Along with being a central hub for the campus and district, and improving social equity in the Discovery District, Mitchell Hall has also become home to the annual DesignColumbus event in which designers across Ohio come to share best practices in sustainability and design. Bolstered by integration and strong partnerships, it is a fitting home for this event. Opportunity, it seems, is always on the menu.