Design of a Unique Community (Global Friendship House)

International students at Old Dominion University will soon have a home away from home, along with American students too.

That home is Global Friendship House, to be located across from the Old Dominion campus. GFH is part of a broader trend on U.S. college and university campuses. They’re enrolling unprecedented numbers of international students, some 1.13 million nationwide. More campuses are adding dedicated housing and student centers to accommodate those students, continuing a beloved tradition that started in the U.S. in 1908 with what is purported to be the first international student house in Philadelphia.

Such houses spread as the decades passed, even garnering support from John D. Rockefeller, who helped fund international houses in the 1930s at the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Chicago. Both institutions created international houses with the goal of them being a “home to the world.” The tradition continues at the University of Pennsylvania, which will soon complete the Perry World House, where, “students, thought leaders, and policy makers from on campus and around the world will talk, listen, study, collaborate and collectively address the most complex global issues of our time," says Penn President, Amy Gutmann.

A Social Nexus for International Students

GFH will set a high bar and, as with other international houses, will go far beyond providing a place to live and study.  Every year, roughly 1,500 international students attend Old Dominion. Many arrive with nothing more than their suitcase. They lack the local connections needed to get settled. They may not be familiar with everyday life skills typical in the States, such as how to open a bank account, or even how to use American laundry machines. Further, nine out of 10 of these students will never see the inside of a typical American home. GFH intends to create a home away from home for these students.

“They are the best of the best in their country. There, they have resources and family. [When] they come here, they have none of that. It is very daunting,” says Kathy Hardison, director of Global Friendship Ventures, the nonprofit venture driving the effort.

At GFH, students will find colleagues who share the same experiences, and others who can help them. In addition to the residential experience, GFH will help to serve as a social nexus for other international students on campus. It will be a resource for the broader Norfolk community and become a destination, where international students can experience the goodwill of America.

Designed for Social Interaction

Applauded by Norfolk officials, the building’s design is intentionally and naturally modern but most importantly the building will be a place that encourages social interaction among students and building life-long relationships. Creating this type of social interaction is a critical component to the design with an emphasis on spaces that draw students out of their rooms and into the common areas.

This social concept was explored in the design of Le Corbusier’s, La Tourette in Loire, France. The sleeping rooms are intentionally smaller while the common spaces are graciously proportioned with the main social center of GFH being the multipurpose space at the first floor. There, GFH staff will host everything from ping pong matches and Bible studies, to lectures and symposia from international thought leaders.

Spaces that Inspire and Connect

Color and natural light is a significant theme for the building with the overarching goal being to create spaces that inspire. Many international students come from universities where buildings are bleak, quarters are cramped, and there is little visual connection to the outside. GFH infuses vibrant colors into the design and provides natural light at every turn. Corridors will end at large glass doors and windows that provide ample sunlight that open onto balconies, providing fresh air and large vistas to the landscape. Some study rooms will open to balconies, while others will be bathed in natural light through curtain wall glazing.

On the exterior, the building will feature a tropical hardwood rain screen system that is impervious to water, along with composite metal panels, brick masonry, and large amounts of glass. The exterior facade includes recessed balconies and depth changes in glass and building skin in order to activate the facade. Vibrant color accents are also used in locations of high social activity.

The Asian-inspired landscape and garden has geometries that reflect those of the building. Embracing students’ various cultures and food, community meals will be a celebrated component to GFH. International students, particularly from Asia and Africa, prefer to grow vegetables unique to their culture and prepare the food of their region. Many cannot afford campus meal plans and the opportunity to prepare meals is important to them economically and socially. GFH's first floor incorporates outdoor raised vegetable gardens and a central “exhibition” kitchen so that students can cook collaboratively, learn from each other and “break bread” together.

A Community Effort

For decades, Global Friendship has helped hundreds of international students by providing them the social network they need including linking them with a host family, providing assistance in finding accommodations or helping mitigate the cultural differences they experience here in United States. That same spirit will live on in GFH.

To keep construction costs down while providing a state-of-the-art modern design, many local companies have donated materials—including all windows, glass, LED lighting, tile, metal façade panels, metal roofing panels and appliances — either at cost, or a reduced rate. The project is being funded with donations from local churches, parishioners and businesses.

Hardison hopes that GFH will be a gathering spot for all kinds of international students seeking free-flowing religious discussions. Some of the students come from countries where freedom of religion is not endorsed and Judeo-Christian values face persecution. GFH will be a place where all ideas and faiths can be respected and explored.

“We are trying to provide a safe place where the students’ faiths are respected. If they want to explore Christianity, and who Jesus is according to the Bible, we want to help them do that,” Hardison says.

Hanbury is very excited to be part of this project. A ceremonial groundbreaking with over 400 attendees was held in July for Global Friendship House. Construction is expected to begin in December 2015 with an anticipated  opening for the spring semester of 2017.

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