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 sound control is so good that the students can stay and study while a concert is going on next door." - Gregory C. Melton, Project Manager at Holland & Hamrick Architects 



The trend is exemplified at Gardner-Webb University in North Carolina. At the core of its student center is a soaring atrium with a three-story climbing wall, as well as the Frank Stewart Hall, a large and adaptable performance space that serves as an auditorium and banquet hall, or as a coffeehouse, club room or study area when its operable walls are lowered. 

Two Skyfold Classic™ 51 walls retract vertically into a ceiling cavity and are almost 60 feet long and 24 feet high. As they quietly unfold from the ceiling in the less than three minutes, they create three separate acoustic venues, which can be used independent of each other. 

“These [Skyfold walls] are suspended from mezzanine-type catwalks reached by spiral staircases, which can be used [to create] three lounge areas, meetings or chamber concerts,” says Gregory G. Melton, project manager with Holland & Hamrick Architects. “The walls come down and enclose the rooms beside the catwalks, and the sound control is so good that the students can stay and study while a concert is going on next door.” 


From the start, flexibility was a key design goal for the Gardner-Webb University project. 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 provide rapid event transitions. 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, like students, alumni, visiting professors and 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. Skyfold, on the other hand, is a static load, with its weight distributed all the way across the opening—and is significantly lighter in weight—saving about 40 percent on structural steel costs. 


Anticipating the heavy use of any operable partition selected and the need for excellent acoustical performance, the project team considered the highest-quality and easiest-to-use solution available. The double-wall Skyfold system is designed with automatic seals. When the wall deploys, the side seals extend automatically and make a reliable and consistent acoustical barrier. The walls are simple and quiet to operate, so they won’t disturb students or visitors when reconfiguring Stewart Hall. 

Stewart Hall is among the most active areas of the 110,000 square-foot building. “The Skyfold walls are up and down all the time in our facility,” says Wayne E. Johnson, Associate Vice President of Operations at Gardner-Webb University. “Everyone has figured out that we have lots of flexibility in our auditorium space.” Recent events include reunions, banquets, the annual Athletic Hall of Fame, a battle of the bands, and numerous informal study and prayer groups. With the electric and automated systems, there are less chances of error or damage often caused by manual manipulation with traditional operable partitions; with Skyfold, Stewart Hall has a consistent and reliable acoustic barrier each time. 


“We wanted students to feel connected, whether they are studying, eating, socializing, or just interacting as they move through the building,” says Roger L. Holland, a principal at Holland & Hamrick, when asked about their overall goals with the renovation. “We’ve designed this center so that students are never isolated from one another.”


Model: 2 Classic™ 51 Walls
Location: Gardner-Webb University, Boiling Springs, North Carolina
Size: 59.11' x 24' (17.733m x 7.2)
Finish: Fabric (Guilford of Maine)
Architects: Holland & Hamrick Architects
Local Supplier: Skyline Innovations
GC: Rodgers Builders Inc.
Installation: April 2012