Florida Polytechnic








10,192 SF


Elegant and resolute, the Student Development Center (SDC) portrays the creative spirit and interactive vibe of a blooming academic and research community located in an emerging technology corridor. The project embraced the opportunity to advance the growth and unique sense of place of Florida Polytechnic University (FPU), of recently established distinction via Santiago Calatrava’s Innovation, Science and Technology (IST) Building and campus master plan. As a central hub embedded in Florida’s fastest growing region, the facility serves both academics and the greater community via shared recreational resources.


The project began with graphic analysis of juxtaposed imagery that included 1) the human body in active recreation, 2) STEM designs, 3) the University’s brand + architecture, and 4) icons of Lakeland / Central Florida. A commonly repeated anthropomorphic gesture of outstretched arms implied the idea of “wings”. Wings became a prevailing form found in the Phoenix (Florida Poly’s Mascot), the Swan (Lakeland’s iconic citizens), and examples of applied STEM (aircraft, spacecraft, drones). The design team architecturalized these inspirational forms through the lens of origami, a tradition of making (with icons of paper cranes and airplanes) with geometry, mathematics, and technical exactness that emulates the University’s mission.

With an architectural program directly linked to the student body, the Student Development Center successfully reflects the dynamic student culture that recently played an active role in the selection and development process of the university’s mascot. Imagery and connotations of the phoenix are not only emblematic of the university’s research-focused scholastic vision, but also metaphorically symbolize the building’s focus on health and wellness. Exercise activities initiate a phoenix-like “regeneration and renewal” through personal physical fitness during periodic intermissions of academic endeavors.

The building’s form leverages an opportunity to promote institutional brand awareness through a contemporary gesture of architecture parlante, or “speaking architecture”. With a site location on campus with high visibility from an adjacent highway, the building design serves as an outward physical display of school spirit to the greater Central Florida community. Additionally, the University commissioned a large photographic collage installed in the reception lobby by Tim Hoeft, AIA (design architect) that depicts imagery of the activity the facility supports, the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) academics the university promotes, and the geometry intrinsic to both the building’s architecture and the institution’s logo and mascot.


The multi-purpose facility for indoor recreation, outdoor aquatics, and student affairs staff personifies the unique “info-tech” character of the university. Brutalist techtonics delineate an architectural symmetry that echos forms from nature, respectful not only of Calatrava’s immediate context (and work globally), but also characteristic of Frank Lloyd Wright’s work at Florida Southern College just 10 miles (16km) across town. In a biomimic abstraction of aerodynamics, the unconventional butterfly-roof “wings” direct rainwater to celebrated water spouts aimed at landscaped rain gardens adjacent the lap pool. Both exterior form and interior space are expressed as a direct resultant of the cohesive architectural and structural approach. Primary interior spaces are flooded with natural light and are presented with a simple and clear organization. A primary material pallet of concrete, glass, steel, and monochromatic finishes is balanced with natural wood and stone interior accents.


Passive energy savings are captured via a true north/south solar orientation and exaggerated roof overhangs on all sides. The northern façade (including the entry lobby) incorporates strategically located glazing that minimizes direct solar heat gain and glare prevalent in the subtropical climate. Views to the exterior campus are framed to capture views toward the preserved wooded area of grand oaks to the north that offers a place for gathering and passive recreation. The central upper roof is designed to support and shade the 30-foot (9m) (future) rock climbing wall outside the main entry and maximize future opportunities to incorporate photovoltaic panels for on-site renewable solar energy and associated research. Both the building and lap pool’s heating and cooling demand is met through a joint-use open-loop geothermal heat pump (GSHP) system.