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Student Union, Ohio State University

by James Hiss, FASLA,
Tedd Hardesty, ASLA, LEED AP,
Paul Lada, ASLA, LEED AP
& Bethany Rutter, EDGE, Columbus, Ohio

The Ohio Union facility is announced at the High Street entry by the 40-ft. long limestone bench. The block "O" emblem is engraved at both ends of the bench.

Land F/X
East Jordon Valmont
Playworld The Cedar Store

The new 330,000-square-foot Ohio State University Student Union in Columbus, Ohio is situated on the east edge of the main campus. The university website terms the Student Union a “steward of the Scarlet and Gray tradition,” a premier facility and center of activity serving fellow Buckeyes through programs, retail and involvement opportunities.

The facility’s four levels includes various lounges, suites and meeting/activity rooms; eateries; bank; tavern; market; Conference Theatre; Performance Hall; Multicultural Center; Information Center; Center for Student Leadership and Service; Ohio Union Administration; instructional kitchen; reception room; ballroom; senate chamber and digital lab.


Significant Student Involvement

With the students being the primary clients, they were an integral part of the programming and design planning. Groups of students visited other student unions across the country, met with the design team to program the building, attended periodic planning meetings, assisted in testing and selecting furniture and will play a key role in planning future events.


The West Terrace, the largest outdoor gathering space of the Ohio Union, has several access points to Union spaces and restaurants. The paving for this lively open space consists of several tones of concrete pavers (Hanover), four circular seat walls (inset) of Indiana limestone with split face texture on the sides and a smooth top, positioned informally, and OSU custom lights poles and fixtures (Hadco).


Site Goals

  • Establish multiple entry points into the building, for it was important to provide a warm welcome to guests approaching from several different directions.
  • Create a formal entrance off High Street and yet design the front lawn and walkways to respond to the open lawn with informal trees’ character of the Oval and South Oval.
  • Design a multi-use terrace to the west conducive to a range of uses, from intimate gatherings to large public events, and act as a terminus to the large open lawn to the west.
  • Develop a performing arts courtyard that’s easily accessible and used by students, yet allows for private gatherings and Student Union events.
  • With the university’s commitment to sustainability and the student concern for impact of the new Union on the environment, it was decided to seek U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) silver-level certification.


The South Courtyard is located immediately adjacent to the indoor Performing Arts Auditorium. Nearly 6,000 square feet of sandstone paving used for the major outdoor terrace of the old Student Union was salvaged to pave this prominent space. Colorful, portable furniture offers a variety of comfortable settings for everyday student activities.


Site Challenges

The previous student union was built on a hill at an elevation approximately 12 ft. higher than High Street. There was a road with parallel parking in front of the main entrance. As such, parked vehicles created a strong obstacle for visitors as they approached the building. Because the High Street side of the new Student Union is the most visible to the community, it was crucial for this entry to be more accessible and properly engage this public corridor.


The central space is flanked by six solid limestone perimeter seat walls planted with wintergreen boxwood shrubs and maintained at seat wall height. Turkish Filbert trees are the focal point of each planter. A "Block-O" fire pit (right) terminates the space on the south end.

While some large trees needed to be removed for the placement of the building, it was important to design walkways, terraces, walls, steps and topography to preserve the stately trees on the site. Saving several of the 36 to 48 inch caliper trees in particular was a key element in configuring the location of major walkways and a major vehicular arrival and drop-off area.

With the West Terrace being a major place for large university events, it was necessary to provide access for large trucks to deliver and park on portions of this terrace.


This major access to the West Terrace is from the direction of the Oval, the major open space on the OSU campus. With a bus stop situated here, this corner is heavily traveled. Direct access is provided to the Terrace as well as to outdoor eating areas.


Role of the Landscape Architect

EDGE is a planning, landscape architecture and graphic design firm, comprised of 15 people, including 11 landscape architects. EDGE collaborated with the owner and design team, provided a full range of design alternatives for the site, prepared the site construction documents, and provided construction administration services.


The High Street entry incorporates a series of eight solid limestone seat walls that define a central lawn panel. This makes for a formal entry on axis with the interior central open space, the Great Hall.


Major Exterior Spaces

The High Street entry engages pedestrians and welcomes them into central gathering space of the building. A 40-ft. long monumental limestone sign and seat wall announces the High Street entry. Large limestone benches flank the central lawn and walkways. In addition, there is an expansive lawn that fronts the entire length of the Student Union to continue the High Street lawn from the north and south.

“Because our High Street side is the one most community members see first, we knew we wanted the entry to be functional, comfortable, and welcoming. And I think we achieved our goal very well,” is the assessment of Tracy Stuck, director of Ohio Union and Student Activities.


The High Street entry welcomes students and the community from several prominent directions. This green space is an extension of the High Street lawn that fronts many OSU buildings along this major corridor.

The West Terrace is a spacious multi-use area that attracts and invites people from the campus side of the Union and serves as a strong terminus to the open green space of the South Oval area. Designed with walkways and steps from nearly every nearby pedestrian route, access to the Union is inviting, direct and engaging. A 200-ft. long brick seat wall, limestone planters, and moveable seating create a lively space for students.

As Tracy Stuck states, “We can hold anything from festivals to concerts there,” reports Tracy Stuck. “It’s a fantastic gathering space where students can have lunch, enjoy the sun, or spend a few moments between classes. On nice days, we expect this space to be a natural extension of our indoor lounge spaces,” she adds.


South Courtyard

The South Courtyard is connected to the indoor performance arts auditorium. While usually open for student use, this space can be sectioned off for private outdoor gatherings and entertaining space. The central area consists of nearly 6,000 square feet of salvaged sandstone from the previous Union. A series of limestone seat planters, with shade trees, help define this terrace, yet allows pedestrian access throughout. Located at the southern edge is a “Block-O” fire pit and seat walls. This courtyard space provides students with a semi-private space to sit, relax, study eat and meet with friends. Tracy enjoys seeing student using this new space. “I love to watch the faces of new visitors to the courtyard because they are completely mesmerized by how simple construction can provide such comfort and relaxation.”


Above and below: The 200-ft. long brick seat wall (Glen Gery brick in an 80 percent blend of "Albany" and 20 percent "Jamestown") establishes an edge to the West Terrace, while keeping sight lines open in all directions.



Approaching the plaza from the south along the north/south concrete walkway you pass the outdoor restaurant seating as you approach the plaza. To the west of the walk is a truck access lane to the West Terrace for event purposes.


LEED Certification Credits based upon site related issues included and were given for:

  • Not selecting land that was prime farmland, wetlands, parkland, within the 100-year flood zone, or habitat for endangered species.
  • Direct connection to public transportation on at least two sides of the building.
  • Use of reflective paving, such as concrete, to reduce the heat island effect.
  • Not using potable water for irrigation through the use native and adaptive vegetation.
  • Reducing the rate and quantity of run off from the site and by treating storm water before it reaches the city system.
  • Reuse of materials from the existing Union Building, including sandstone pavers for the South Courtyard. Several of the trees felled on the site were harvested for fireplace mantels and some furniture. Much of the reusable material was donated to Habitat for Humanity.

The university’s desire to enhance the collegiate experience of its students with a “dynamic, inclusive environment” has been met by establishing venues for flexible programming, while encouraging quite study, group activities and a variety of opportunities for social interaction. In addition, careful consideration of design details and materials selection ensures the students of Ohio State University will enjoy these spaces for generations to come.


The Ohio State University-Office of Student Life

Design Team
Architect: Moody Nolan, Inc.
Civil Engineer: Jones-Stuckey Ltd.
Construction Manager: Smoot Construction Co.
Construction Testing: DLZ
Design Architect: Michael Dennis & Associates
Landscape Architect: EDGE
MEP Engineer: HAWA Inc.
Structural Engineer: Jezerinac Geers Associates

Electrical: Vaughn Industries 
Fencing: Superior Fence and Builders
Joint Sealants: Dalton Maintenance, Inc.
Landscape: GreenScapes Landscape Co.
Masonry: International Masonry Inc. 
Paving: Decorative Paving
Signage: Columbus Sign Co.
Site: George J. Igel & Co., Inc.
Stone: Cleveland Marble Mosaic Co.

Ameristar Fence
Anderson Concrete
Brasco International, Inc.
Bybee Stone Co.
Dumor Site Furnishings
Hanover Architectural Products
Jacklin Seed
Kurtz Bros., Inc.
Victor Stanley, Inc.

Handrails: custom fabricated by Wanner Metalworx
Light poles: OSU custom poles and fixtures by Hadco
Precast Material: North American Cast Stone
Wall brick: Glen Gery, 80% Albany; 20% Jamestown blend

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November 18, 2019, 11:02 am PDT

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