L.S. Associates renovates UGA with Tandus Centiva carpet

By Lisa Strzelecki

Launching the renovation of a building that is over 60 years old can be a daunting task for a design firm. Sometimes we are granted the luxury of interviewing the end user to get an idea of how they would like to use the space. Other times we will visit a facility with a similar space to observe how it functions. In August 2013, the University of Georgia librarian, Dr. William Potter, hired my firm, L.S. Associates, Interior Design Consultants, to renovate a 14,000-square-foot space in the main library into a student gathering space. 

The original building of the campus’ main library was completed in 1952, and on the fourth floor, where the new student study space is now located, the ceiling height is only 7’6” at the highest point and 6’8” at its lowest point. It began as essentially an open area with multiple columns located approximately 18’ on center, creating a defined grid pattern, with four walled structures floating within the space to house stairwells and restrooms. Windows, starting at 50” above the finished floor, span the full width of three exterior walls. Dr. Potter’s intention for the space was to create a flexible study environment for students to gather, to study and collaborate on projects. His list of requirements was short: the floor would be a soft surface, all of the furniture would be on casters, and all of the walls would be covered in writable surfaces. 

The only direction given to our team regarding the design aesthetics was to create a “dynamic student space.” Dynamic would not be the first adjective that comes to mind when thinking of a library. Keeping the physical aspects of the room in mind—low ceiling and no direct sunlight—the obvious approach was to start with the flooring. Shifting the end user’s attention away from the low ceiling height was going to be the key to making this space not feel like an expansive cave. Maintenance is always a factor when considering flooring for high traffic spaces, so the type of flooring selected for this space had to withstand furniture on casters. It also had to be stain resistant and easy to clean without the use of chemicals or solvents, since food and drink would be allowed in the space. UGA is a very environmentally aware institution, and all harsh cleaning chemicals have been banned from campus.

Dr. Potter’s request was for the space to be designed as we wished, to create the space as we saw it in our own minds. Even though L.S. Associates had a 13-year relationship with the library, it was still a surprise to be given free design reign. Since the ceiling height is so low in the space, the color on the walls needed to be subdued, focusing the attention of color on the floor. There is an unwritten rule at UGA that the school colors, red and black, are designated for facilities related to athletics only. Trying to keep this in mind, we started researching color schemes by sorting through fabric samples and making piles of colors and patterns that we found interesting but not overtly trendy. 

Next, we went online and pored over photos of carpet introductions from NeoCon 2013. We knew we wanted to use a flexible modular system such as carpet tile for its ease of installation and low maintenance. When the selections were narrowed down to three manufacturers with appealing patterns and colors, samples were ordered. We then met with representatives of each carpet manufacturer to discuss budget and how their products would work best for the installation. Finally, the selections were presented to the client, who quickly narrowed the field down to one manufacturer, Tandus, now Tandus Centiva. 

At that point, we had 15 different samples in all the colors of the rainbow that consisted of modular tile and Powerbond. Since the columns created a grid, the thought was to focus on a design that would incorporate curves to soften the space. After days spent with tracing paper and colored pencils in hand, drawing lines, circles, wavy lines, intersecting lines, a comprehensive design still eluded the team. After yet another morning of sketching, we scattered the carpet samples across the floor, moving them around like puzzle pieces, photographing them in multiple combinations, just trying to get a fresh perspective. 

While staring at the carpet samples, we ran through the list of project requirements, such as budget, ease of installation, minimizing waste, the manufacturer’s lead time and the client’s schedule. Feeling the deadline looming dreadfully close, we looked at the floor plan from a bird’s eye view. I typically try to visualize myself walking throughout the space when I approach a design. By looking at it from an aerial perspective, the floor plan resembled a landscape dotted with trees. An online search for aerial photographs brought up images of the flower fields in Holland. They were colorful and dynamic yet simple and orderly, just what we were trying to convey. The number of carpet patterns was then reduced from 15 to a more reasonable nine, and the design flowed from there.

When the student gathering space finally opened in January 2014, students were amazed as they entered the area. There are many student study spaces located all over campus, but none as unique as the fourth floor main library. The patterns and colors on the floor did exactly what was intended, to divert attention from the low ceiling height. The overall design in the end had no curves whatsoever, but instead paid homage to what we tried to avoid: straight lines and grids. The colors in the flooring created a dynamic visual dance without feeling chaotic. 

Using a peel and stick system allowed for a relatively easy installation when combining the 6’ wide Powerbond and 24”x 24” tiles. The 90% solution-dyed/10% yarn-dyed fibers with the MedFloor and ER3 backings will resist stains and allow for ease maintenance. It has been our experience that modular carpet allows for the most creative design latitude, and the option to use coordinating Powerbond expands the range of design possibilities even further. 

Acoustics are always a major factor in designing public spaces, especially where large amounts of college students gather. The space at the University of Georgia library was created so that students could sit on the floor as well as on the furniture provided, so it was critical to have a soft surface like carpet on the floor that would hold up to the friction of the casters. Having a mix of Powerbond, which the company positions as a hybrid resilient, and modular tile allowed for ease of installing long runs across a large space, creating patterns and transitioning from one type of product to another. Also, there will be no downtime in replacing material with a peel and stick backing if it becomes damaged. Sustainability is an absolute consideration when selecting any interior finish products. Off gassing can cause problems, not only with the users of the space, but also with those working in the building.

Once completed, a quick visit to the main library told us all we needed to know: 200 students, at any given time, gathered in a space, interacting, studying alone, writing all over the walls. The project was a success.

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