The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Senior Commons project ‘underway’ with undetermined completion date

The Senior Commons will be located at Terrace Place and will house 1,526 people.
Eric Ball and Adjaye Associates
An aerial view of the future Senior Commons. (Photo courtesy of Eric Ball and Adjaye Associates)

During the Dec. 12, 2023, University Staff Advisory Council meeting, University Landscape Architect James Moore presented plans for a Senior Commons at Vanderbilt, which he said are “underway.” The Senior Commons will be located at Terrace Place, behind Wilson Hall and Kissam Center, and will sleep 1,526 people. 

The proposed Senior Commons would house 95% of the students classified as seniors for the 2023-24 housing process, according to University Registrar Director of System Operations Matt King and Director of Housing Assignments and Operations Alison Matarese.

Over 90 elected non-union-eligible staff representatives comprise the USAC and represent more than 4,000 staff members. The USAC’s website reads that it helps advise administrators and staff on university-wide and staff-specific issues. 

Senior Commons design

The meeting minutes state that the expected completion date of the Senior Commons is undetermined, but that an architect has been chosen. Eric Ball of Adjaye Associates featured plans for the Senior Commons on his website as of publication, which quantifies the project as 800,000 square feet. The two tallest buildings — Tower C and Tower F — in these plans are 195 feet and 145 feet, respectively, making Tower C taller than the Kirkland Hall clock tower. The heights of the other buildings are not given. 

An aerial plan for the future Senior Commons. (Photo courtesy of Eric Ball and Adjaye Associates)

According to these plans, the Senior Commons will occupy the current parking lots at the corner of Terrace Place and 21st Avenue. It will connect to the area behind Wilson Hall, overtaking a portion of 21st Ave. with shrubbery and “extending the protected area for student recreation,” according to the plans. Trees are planted on the building rooftops in the plans.

Many of the rooms in the plans appear to include balconies. Outdoor gathering areas and lawns occupy the space between the buildings in the plans, and common spaces are also located both underneath and throughout the buildings. Other amenities listed in these plans of the Senior Commons include an underground parking lot, a retail and grocery store, an alumni and career center, a dining hall, communal kitchens, event spaces, a gym and fitness room, a music practice room, a classroom, a makerspace and the Student Care Network. The University Counseling Center, part of the SCN, is currently located on land that the Senior Commons will reportedly occupy. 

A sectioned diagram plan for the future Senior Commons showing inside features of its buildings (Photo courtesy of Eric Ball and Adjaye Associates)

The plans show the Senior Commons featuring solar harvesting and “sustainably harvested, low carbon and high in thermal mass” building materials. 

“To celebrate the environmental initiatives of the VU, timber construction will be used as a continuation of the site’s longstanding relationship with health, wellness and sustainability,” the plans read. “The warmth and raw feel of the timber allows for the buildings to serve as an extension to nature and health in the community.”

Moore did not respond to The Hustler’s request for comment about the project, and Director of Campus Planning and Construction Julie Covington declined to comment on the project.

Project progress

Currently, no construction is visibly underway on Terrace Place, despite the project being listed as underway on the USAC minutes. In an email to The Hustler, USAC President Adam McKeever-Burgett, who also serves as the assistant dean for academic services and director of data analytics, stated that the “plans, timeline and design” of construction projects mentioned in the minutes are tentative if construction has not yet begun on them.

Phase II of Vanderbilt’s “Graduate Student Village” — the first phase being the now-finished Broadview at Vanderbilt graduate student housing — initially was planned for Terrace Place. The Facilities Department, formerly Plant Operations, told The Hustler that Phase II has been canceled.  

Similarly, Kirkland Hall and Kirkland Esplanade are listed as “underway” in the minutes. The university told The Hustler in February that the construction at this site had been completed, and it is labeled as finished on the FutureVU website. Additionally, no construction is visible outside the building or in the esplanade. The Hustler interviewed Chancellor Daniel Diermeier in Kirkland Hall on March 22; The Hustler has since been denied access inside the building.

During a March 26 sit-in at Kirkland Hall, student protestors and the press were not allowed inside the building due to it being allegedly “closed for construction,” as signs on the doors to the building indicate. The Hustler has seen multiple employees enter and leave the building during the work week.

The university did not respond to The Hustler’s request for comment about the renovation status of Kirkland Hall and Kirkland Esplanade. 

The USAC minutes also mention that evaluations of Branscomb Quadrangle, McTyeire House, the University Club, the Center for Religious Studies, the Campus Dining Commissary and “parking” are ongoing. McKeever-Burgett declined to specify the aforementioned “parking,” stating that Moore gave no further information. Campus Dining clarified that the Campus Dining Commissary prepares to-go meals for Munchie Marts. 

Student reactions

Vanderbilt is known for its first-year Ingram Commons experience; it is advertised as “one of the things that makes Vanderbilt special” by Dean of the Commons Melissa Gresalfi. Senior Vincent Gilliam, who is a residential advisor at Hank Ingram House, stated that some of the core beneficial features of the Ingram Commons may not be as relevant to seniors on a Senior Commons. 

“By the time we’re seniors, most people have already figured out who their friends are and lack the free time the freshmen have to be engaged in floor activities,” Gilliam said. 

Gilliam added that the location of the Senior Commons could impact seniors’ involvement with the rest of campus. However, he said its proximity to the center of campus may minimize this issue.

“Seniors…tend to be heads/[on] e-boards of most clubs on campus. They might isolate themselves from the rest of the classes even though they’re needed as mentors for the underclassmen,” Gilliam said. “It can’t be a bubble from the rest of campus we promise students to run off to before they graduate.”

On the other hand, first-year Luke Wells said he is in favor of the Senior Commons due to the positive connections such a living design spurs. Wells serves as the Public Relations Chair for Murray House. 

“I’ve loved having everyone in my year all in one place with frequent events to bring us together for competitions like trivia, athletics, etc.,” Wells said. “It’s made it really easy to make friendships outside of my major and classes.”

Wells also stated that Vanderbilt should improve upon the Ingram Commons Cup experience with the Senior Commons.

I think having a frequently updated scoreboard for people to check their house’s standings could boost involvement, Wells said. When people don’t know how close or far they are from winning, they kind of become removed from the competitions.

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About the Contributor
Rachael Perrotta
Rachael Perrotta, Former Editor-in-Chief
Rachael Perrotta ('24) is from Cranston, R.I., and majored in cognitive studies, communication of science and technology and political science and minored in gender and sexuality studies in Peabody College. She was also previously Senior Advisor and News Editor. If she's not pressing you for a comment, she's probably trying to convince you that she's over 5 feet tall, cheering on the Red Sox or wishing Nashville had a beach. She can be reached at [email protected].
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Total Crap
1 month ago

This type of junk looks like a Miami timeshare, not a dorm at one of the best universities in the country.

Colleges were making the same mistakes 50 years ago and we are just now coming to terms with them (Towers at Vandy, Mather House at Harvard, Munger Hall at UCSB, Stern Hall at Stanford). Vandy is now deciding to repeat that mistake. The university should really take a stand and do what Stanford did.

After Stanford made the terrible decision to hire a modernist architect to build Stern Hall in 1948, outraged students and administrators banned buildings at Stanford that did not meet rigorous architectural design criteria. Since then all buildings there have followed clear rules to ensure the they don’t ever give into temporary narcissistic architecture again. Letting each chancellor spit out the latest crap trend all over our campus destroys the beauty of our “historical park-like campus.” Many years were devoted to cultivating a historical and beautiful campus only to now be ruined by modern apartment blocks and post-WW2 efficiency housing.

I hope alumni refuse to donate to this and demand more rigor from our Administration. A university building shouldn’t just exist for utility, it should be expected to leave a lasting impact as a part of a larger architectural heritage. None of our buildings should be so distinct that they cleave our campus apart and try to become something entirely new. Zeppos and Rothschild aligned with the history and beauty of our surrounding community. They used some of the best traditional architects in the country, who cared to build to last and develop real communities for students. These new “Senior Commons” only exist to exhibit the shallow pride of our bureaucratic administration. They are as common as the name implies.

1 month ago

Seems to abandon the whole residential college model to which the university has devoted many years of planning and many millions of dollars. Seems like there should be some discussion of that. Also, while on the topic of major changes in direction, what is up with this West Palm Beach campus nonsense? Hustler, get on it!

1 month ago

So where are the plans to replace all that parking for NON-students, aka faculty and staff who need to reach that side of campus to work there? Parking around campus is already in high demand and too costly. Where are the plans to widen/rearrange the surrounding one-way roads that are going to be cut off and squeezed in between the Broadview and this, with part of 21st Avenue’s access being erased entirely?

Samuel Clemens
1 month ago
Reply to  parking

I can’t speak for parking, but your point about 21st is really good—the renderings have bushes and grass on the 21st/West End connection, are they seriously just wiping that out? How is that a thing??

Samuel Clemens
1 month ago

To Gilliam’s point—you’re right, most friend groups are already set, but I’d argue that’s not necessarily a good thing. It should never be considered too late to branch out and find new friends and I think it’s good that this senior commons would encourage that.

1 month ago

Evidently the administration doesn’t care about the original objectives for residential colleges anymore. The whole point was students claiming a single college for our final 3 years.

Now we are going back to traditional dorms with all their flaws. Built like neo-Khrushchevka blocks as well! How exciting!

Abandoning traditional architecture for this temporary nonsense. Diermeier wants us to become just like a German university, with no distinct identity from the city around us and no historical architectural form. Shame, we were doing so well with Zeppos and Rothschild.

Recent alum
1 month ago

Absolutely awesome. So glad they’re doing this. Looks great

1 month ago

I sure hope seniors are afforded the privilege of apartments with real kitchens and not the sink-fridge-too many cabinets situation they’ve been pushing in the res colleges

USAC Member
1 month ago

While I can only speak for my interpretation of the presentation, the concerns raised by Gilliam are valid but will be addressed in the design and function of the Senior Commons. By connecting the Career Center to the Senior Commons and creating more apartment-type rooms, the Commons will shift the focus from community building and engagement that you see at the Ingram Commons, to a more individualization focus and preparing the students for life after Vanderbilt and living/ working on their own.

Do Better
1 month ago

Such horrible architecture. Shame. Years from now Hustler will be covering the implosions, just like Towers I-IV.

Rowan Price
1 month ago

Clearly a money and power grab, the administration wanting to make sure they control all the living spaces (RIP Wesley) and get every cent of above market rent