A Recipe for Success: Two designs deliver a taste of Southern hospitality

By Scott Baker, LS3P

A college’s presence in the local area can enhance its image, attract students, and bolster the economy. Two culinary schools – Trident Technical College (Charleston, South Carolina) and Johnson and Wales University (Charlotte, North Carolina) – have recently enhanced their culinary arts and related programs–and their presence in the community. Facility design has played a major role in their achievements.

Campus needs

Johnson & Wales University (JWU), whose main campus is in Providence (Rhode Island), sought ways to meet growth challenges at its Charleston and Norfolk (Virginia) campuses. The university ultimately decided to consolidate the southeastern campuses in Charlotte. In Charleston, where the economy relies heavily on tourism, Trident Tech officials acquired a 225,000-square-foot warehouse adjacent to the campus. In a phased plan, they developed it to support the college’s culinary arts, hospitality, and tourism curriculum as well as their information technology and mechanical skills programs.

The sites

Situated on a prominent street that connects the interstate to the heart of downtown Charlotte, the site selected for JWU was long and narrow. To take advantage of the site, a multi-story “collegiate gothic” structure was designed with visible storefronts and floor-to-ceiling windows. To capture the attention of urban pedestrian traffic, the most popular of the 16 kitchens, chocolate and pastry, were placed in street-front labs. An underground service area/loading dock can be accessed via side street entrance and exited through a garage door, which is masked as store frontage.

On the Trident campus, the industrial warehouse faces a busy traffic artery. Thus, the warehouse needed an entirely new face to exude a modern image. A pre-cast concrete and brick overlay tied the structure to the adjacent campus, while metal and glass accents created a light, contemporary aesthetic. Its strongest design interest, however, is within its interior.

Flow & Function

At JWU all 17 kitchens are large enough to accommodate 20 students and an instructor.  Each cover specific culinary uses, and are outfitted with various manufacturers’ equipment so students will be prepared to use a range of equipment they encounter. Rather than wrapping around the walls, a unique aspect is the way appliances are clustered in islands: the layout uses space more efficiently and allows for ease in supervision of teams of students.

At Trident Tech three teaching kitchens focus on preparation of food that will be served in the connected restaurant. Thus, not only do students learn how to cook but how to serve in a timely manner, and focus on how to create a wonderful dining experience.

Hospitality centers

In addition to enhancing individual programs, each institution wanted to create a hospitality center, where the culinary functions would serve the whole campus. Designed to be warm, yet open, these centers would capture potential students’ interest.

Trident Tech administrators wanted the public, especially those visiting the adjacent campus Conference Center, to see instruction spaces in teaching kitchens, labs and classrooms. To accomplish this, large windows run along the corridors and around a teaching restaurant, which serves the public. The restaurant, in turn, is visible from teaching kitchens surrounding it. A curved wall of slate and glass tile, along with a curved solid-surface food and beverage bar, gives the space scale and visual interest. A large plasma screen broadcasts cooking techniques from the kitchens into the dining area.  The College administration has identified the complex as the signature of the campus.

JWU’s hospitality center role was accomplished using a tiered auditorium, which has a demonstration kitchen at the bottom. This can be closed off and converted to a lecture hall with 20-foot-long, 12-foot-high rolling doors. Space adjacent to the tiered hall can serve as a pre-function or serving area during college events.

The new design appears to have assisted in recruitment efforts and contributed to the economy of the city. JWU-Charlotte attracted more students than the originally anticipated 885. Its first class, in fall 2004, topped out at 1,200 students–25 percent more than expected. The trend has not slowed; there were 2,150 students during the most recent academic year and an anticipated enrollment of 2,800 by 2007.  A.J&W commissioned study by NC State University found the campus generates a $100million economic impact annually.

Trident Tech’s modern facility has enhanced its already strong culinary arts/hospitality program. As many as 1,000 culinary students can be accommodated in the facility.

By seeking to accommodate more than just the students, the new designs at JWU-Charlotte and Trident Tech deliver a true taste of Southern hospitality.