For an all-encompassing new student center, Skyfold Classic 51™ delivers flexible functionality for big event space. 


Boiling Springs, NC

Installation date: April 2012

Design challenge: Creating a flexible, acoustically separate event hall

Student centers are increasingly seen as live-learn hubs for today’s growing colleges and universities. More than places to relax, socialize, snack and study, the best examples become campus destinations: a magnet for social life and a microcosm of the entire institution.

The trend is exemplified at Gardner-Webb University in Boiling Springs, N.C., which blends a liberal-arts core curriculum with a commitment to Christian values and experience. There, one of the country’s best new student centers unfolds behind an unassuming, traditional exterior of red brick with expansive windows. At its core is a soaring, bright atrium with a three-story climbing wall, as well as Frank Stewart Hall, a large and adaptable performance space that serves as an auditorium and banquet hall— or as a coffeehouse, club or study area when its operable walls are lowered.

“The performance space is nontraditional and very flexible,” says Wayne E. Johnson, associate vice president of operations at GardnerWebb University. “Stewart Hall works either as a coffeehouse or club setting by lowering electric, disappearing Skyfold walls — or as an auditorium or banquet setting by raising the walls. When the walls are lowered, the center room has a balcony on three sides with bistro table seating.”

The two Skyfold® Classic 51™ operable Wall Systems retract vertically into a ceiling cavity and are almost 60 feet long and 24 feet high. As they quietly glide down from the ceiling in less than 3 minutes, they create three separate acoustic venues, which can be used complely independant of each other.

“These are suspended from mezzanine-type catwalks reached by spiral stairs, which can be used as three lounge areas, meetings or chamber concerts,” says Gregory G. Melton, project manager with the architecture firm Holland & Hamrick Architects, of Shelby, N.C., which designed the facility. “The walls come down and enclose the rooms beside the catwalks, and the sound control is so good that students can stay and study while a concert is going on next door.”

Holland & Hamrick Architects are very familiar with Skyfold walls, having used the operable walls in several projects including a nearby senior care facility and a county conference center with 10 Skyfold walls.


From the start, flexibility of use was a key design goal for the Gardner-Webb University project. “We met with Dr. Frank Bonner, president, and Wayne Johnson and his team to discuss how the facility would be used,” says Roger L. Holland, AIA, a principal with Holland & Hamrick. “We designed the space to be flexible and not isolating to any one element.”

It was not easy to solve the complex challenge of the hall or the student center, says Gardner-Webb’s Johnson: “We argued like family during the design and building processes but we’re still friends when all was done,” he recalls.

The university performance spaces, collectively called Frank Stewart Hall, were planned for a variety of uses throughout the day, requiring highly acoustic operable walls that could rapidly make the space flexible. As the Tucker Student Center’s “signature event hall,” it also needed to project a dignified and elegant appearance for a range of visitors and users, from students, alumni, and visiting professors, to civic and academic groups.

Traditional side-stacking operable walls can weigh as much as 10-12 pounds per square foot. The dynamic load of side-stacking operable walls would have made the structural steel costs prohibitive for such large openings. The architects designed spaces with 60-foot by 24-foot SKYFOLD® Classic 51™ walls for the mezzanine application. Skyfold is a static load, with it’s weight distributed all the way across the opening — and significantly lighter weight (about 7 pounds per square foot) — saving about 40 percent on the structural steel costs.

Even with the 60-foot wide opening, with Skyfold the school can reconfigure the space in about three minutes with just two people pressing buttons. With another wall system, it could take at least an hour with a full team.


Anticipating the heavy use of the Skyfold walls and the need for excellent acoustical performance led the project team to consider the highest-quality, easiest-to-use product available. The doublewalled Skyfold system is designed with seals that have no friction when they are closing. When the wall deploys, the side seals extend automatically and make a reliable, consistent acoustical seal. The walls are simple to operate and very quiet when opening or closing, so their operation won’t disturb students or visitors in nearby areas.

The investment is already paying off. Stewart Hall is among the most active areas of the 110,000-square-foot building. Recent events have included reunions, banquets, the annual Athletic Hall of Fame, a battle of the bands, plus numerous informal study and prayer groups. With its wood finishes, classical proportions and the latest in educational and audio-visual technology, the hall is among the most impressive assets for Gardner-Webb.

Skyfold’s Operable Wall Systems also met with our overall goals. “We wanted students to feel connected, whether they are studying, eating, socializing, or just interacting as they move through the building,” says Holland. “We’ve designed this Center so that students are never isolated from one another.”