Case Study: NIC Student Wellness and Recreation Center

By Debbie Bravo, ALSC

A design solution is most successful when the Owner is engaged in the design process from the very beginning. The establishment of the Program, the defining document of the Client needs, is the foundation for a design that is unique and reflective of the Owner.

Programming is my favorite part of doing Interior Design. I get to work with an Owner in an intensive, personal, one-on-one manner getting to know and understand what makes them tick! The process involves exploration into their goals, their “flow”, their needs and their desires for the building. It involves a thorough understanding of who they are and what they do on a daily basis and allows me an opportunity to be creative, using new and unique methods to get the information I need. Done right, it’s a fun and uninhibited process.

One of the most recent projects on which we learned about our Client in creative ways was the NIC Student Wellness and Recreation Center. The seeds of the project were planted back in 2000 when a group of students began pushing for a place where their Cardinals could go to improve their lives through health, fitness and recreation. It would be a place of gathering, a heart of the campus and a beacon of light and activity for all to enjoy! Staying true to their mission, they remained diligent agreeing to increased fees to pay for the project. Then, in 2015 when the Board of Trustees approved the project, the Students, Staff and Dormitory Housing Committee were ready to dig in! 

We were ready, too! Quite a bit of work had been done up to this point, but it was now time to dig deep to uncover the details of what they needed. What types of activities did they expect to do in the facility: Lift weights? Shoot hoops? Socialize? Rock climb? Take a Spinning class? Yes – and then some!  What should the building look like, feel like: Inviting? Open? Bright and light filled? Flexible? Use native materials that connect with nature? Reflect the NIC campus and the surrounding community? Of course!!

Board 2

Discovering such needs and desires only comes through a deliberate process on their terms, in their environment, led by us asking questions, listening and observing. In this case, we created a process involving our participation with their students in annual NIC events and activities where the students were the center of attention.  For example, we joined the Campus Rec booth and incoming students on their Day of Welcome at the start of the fall classes and solicited their input with a “live” Pinterest board. “What amenities would you like to have in a Rec Center?” “Explain characteristics of the way you want the building to look.” – merely a couple of the questions we asked, giving the incoming students an opportunity to provide input about the facility which they would be enjoying and which they would paying for. (Engagement=Investment)  In traditional Cardinal fashion, we led a series of Open Forums in which students would show up and give thoughtful input into the specific types of activities they want to enjoy within categories of group fitness, unstructured activities, intramural clubs, etc.  Additionally, they had opportunities throughout the design process to review various options of the building layout and organization and offer their thoughts and comments about what they saw.

In the end, they will be able to walk into the new Student Wellness and Recreation Center with full confidence that the facility will offer the variety of amenities, activities and even the informal social spaces in a character that supports their notion of the “campus rec room”. It will be a facility imagined by, paid for and designed by the students FOR the students of NIC. This, in my mind, is a story of success!


Debbie Bravo is an Associate and an Interior Designer with ALSC Architects. A wife and mother of two, her personal interests compliment her design expertise – resulting in innovative, inspiring environments for teaching, learning, playing and working.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s