Northwestern College, Billy Graham Community Life Commons

Saint Paul, Minnesota

  • FIRM

    Perkins and Will


    Northwestern College

  • AREA

    61,000 sq.ft.





Northwestern College is anchored culturally by Nazareth Hall, a historic icon built in 1923 as a seminary for the Roman Catholic church and described by its Boston architects, Maginnis & Walsh, as a modern vision of the "Lombard Romanesque." Nazareth is sited prominently on a peninsula in Lake Johanna where its wings of functional space are ADDITIONAL INFORMATIONCOST PER SQ FT$257.00FEATURED IN2012 Architectural Portfolio around daylighting courtyards and clad with Roman brick and Spanish tile roofs. Nazareth Hall was architecturally oriented to the lakeshore via a robust loggia, massive entry tower and a popular wedding chapel. By 1970, the seminary had closed and was sold to Northwestern College as the new home for its growing student body.

Today, this small liberal-arts college is growing and aspires to transfer the prominent lakeside heritage of Nazareth onto an emerging land-side academic core. Billy Graham Community Life Commons is designed to be the cultural and physical pivot point of student life, academics and the palpable uniqueness of place embodied in Nazareth Hall. By moving a service road and parking lots to the south of the academic core, the design team co-located the commons with Nazareth Hall, weaving the plan figures into a pinwheel of campus geometries. The historic lake-side orientation has been conceptually rotated onto a future land-side Campus Green, bridging a century of time.

As the center of campus, Graham Commons supports student life with dining, a bookstore, post-office boxes, meeting rooms, classrooms, student government office, cafe and meditation room. For today’s modern, wireless-equipped students, the commons is a visually dynamic, socially open and technologically savvy space for living and learning in the 21st century. A warm wood structure supports an open plan with generous glazing in a modern language that timelessly connects interior volumes with campus courtyards, the lake and arched loggias of Nazareth Hall.