Transforming Today's College Campus- American International College

Every good idea starts with a problem. Our client, American International College was faced with several challenges in their journey to reinvent their campus. As the architect and designer, we crafted unique solutions geared to increase enrollment and focus on their needs.


CHALLENGE: The ‘Money Walk’

The ‘Money Walk’ is when parents take their son or daughter on their first campus tour. They want to see where their child is going to eat, sleep, play and study; the main attractions - such as the Dining Commons, the Dorms, the Gym and the Library.  AIC had these covered, except for one important study destination: Shea Library.

Shea Library was built in the 1960s, had never been renovated, and was in poor condition.  The way it was originally designed and its function had nothing to do with the needs of today’s faculty and students.

More importantly, it was already March and the college needed to create a splash that would excite and engage current and prospective students. The College instructed us to go forward and specify new and attractive furniture and paint colors to spruce up the place.  It wasn’t what the college administration or even what the students wanted, but they felt it was the only option given timing and their budget.

Well we approached this problem in a different way…




We knew this approach was a band-aid at best and was not going to meet the needs of their customers- the faculty and students.

So, we began by asking ourselves what if?   What if we could do a low scope renovation, and transform a library that could meet the needs of today’s students? 

How could we develop a design solution that engaged AIC’s customers, and what if, in doing so, could transform a campus?

We started with some research looking at projects such as LaGuardia Airport and their design approach. LaGuardia focused on understanding the needs and sales cycle of the business traveler to transform the airport experience. When designing Shea Library we applied the same design thinking in order to maximize the student experience.

We also studied the habits and behaviors of millennials, incorporating how we design for them in retail, hospitality and even the corporate environment. They are experienced, focused and they want a unique, fully customizable experience in how they communicate, eat, learn and play. Why couldn’t the library accommodate for those needs?

We worked with the Administration to present an innovative and new approach that captured the needs of the Campus, while keeping it a low scope remodel. The Board had considered de-funding the project, but after hearing our presentation, they unanimously approved the renovations, doubled the budget and moved forward with the remodel of the Shea Library.

The solution was to develop a ‘Student Commons’; a new environment that focused on these bold but simple changes:

Creating ‘Magnets’ – environments where students wanted to be.

Creating ‘Bridges’ – connections to the college community, the neighborhood, and the cultural and academic institutions of Greater Springfield.

Creating ‘Outposts’ – an environment that was customized to both the commuter student and the residential student.

Creating ‘Fields’ – opportunities for student engagement and collaboration both within the campus community and beyond.



Based on schedule and budget limitations, the design concentrated on materials, finishes, furnishings and technology, while maintaining the existing building’s rooms and infrastructure.  Our radical changes to the traditional library format included:

- Elimination of the the resource desk, and replacing it with an iPad-carrying ‘concierge’, where the guidance and resources a student wanted was brought to them.

- Flexible seating that was easily customizable to support the needs of an individual, a study group, or a guest lecturer.

- Creating a Café offering healthy drinks and snacks prepared and served on site.

- Creating ‘bookable-boxes’, where students could reserve technology-focused suites for intensive group learning.

- A focused design that promoted and supported interaction, collaboration, and engagement to the campus.

- Technology brought directly to every seat throughout the new Student Commons.

- Color and materials that were both inviting and fun.



The end result was a true transformation.  The new Student Commons has become both the social and learning hub of the campus, providing a unique opportunity for students to connect and collaborate that never had existed before.

The renovation was completed on time and within the anticipated budget, representing great value to the academic community, as a low-scope, summer project. 

I wanted to tell you this story to describe to you how we, as a design firm, approach our projects.  We research our client’s customers and leverage our expertise in the multiple sectors we practice in to maximize the customer’s experience, no matter who the customer is. And at Phase Zero Design, one of our great differentiators is our ability to understand the transactional relationships that exist and how design can promote, shape and encourage a positive experience for the customer.  Everything in life is transactional, whether this occurs in the retail, the corporate, the hospitality or the academic market sector.