Harrison Commons | Medical College of Georgia Foundation


No Stone Left Unturned

By Christine Hurley Deriso

It took a village.

When the architectural firm HOK Atlanta was hired to design Augusta University's J. Harold Harrison, M.D. Education Commons, no stone was left unturned in its creation.

It wasn't just a group of architects; it was a collaboration,' says Todd Bertsch, the firm's senior vice president and director of design. We had almost 100 design meetings with faculty, students and other members of the Medical College of Georgia community, all of whom contributed invaluable information. I think that's what made it so special.

The building, which was completed in 2014, is a premier 175,000-square-foot learning center for MCG and other health sciences students at Augusta University. The building includes classrooms, learning communities, a 40,000-square-foot Simulation Center, conference rooms and many other spaces designed to optimize the learning experience.

Our number-one priority was creating an environment that allowed MCG students and faculty to have easy and comfortable spaces in which to learn and study, Bertsch said. We wanted the environment to be as nurturing, relaxing and comfortable as possible.

Considering the many hours a day that MCG students spend in the building, their interpersonal needs were also a high priority. Designing this building was an opportunity to enrich the students social fabric, Bertsch says. We wanted to help them build relationships that they would carry into the future, so along with plenty of quiet study spaces, there are lots of areas for social, club-like interactions.

The architects wanted the students to be able to interact with nature, as well. The building, LEED silver-certified by the U.S. Green Building Council, includes a green quad and lots of natural lighting. The building's wire banners are actually metal fabric solar shades, Bertsch says. We wanted as much transparency as possible, primarily through the use of glass. The elevation facing west tends to get heat gains, so the transparent solar shades reduce heat and glare. Windows were also built into each staircase.

And while function was key, style was vital. The building is designed to be attractive from every angle, Bertsch says. ?We wanted it to connect to the landscape and the surrounding area, making it a good neighbor without being overbearing.

The building's namesake and chief benefactor, the late Dr. J. Harold Harrison, would no doubt be tremendously pleased that his vision was so lovingly brought to life. Harrison, a native of Kite, Georgia, was a 1948 MCG alumnus who pioneered many advances in his field of vascular surgery. After retiring, he returned to his roots by embarking on a second career as a farmer in Bartow, Georgia. Knowing the value of maximizing the fruits of his labor, he and wife Sue became tireless philanthropists, including donating $10 million toward construction of the building. Harrison's estate also made an awe-inspiring $66 million endowment gift to the MCG Foundation, which voted unanimously to establish the J. Harold Harrison, M.D. Fellows Fund. The fund has become MCG's foremost scholarship program, covering the educational expenses of select students.

But it is the building that stands as the most visible testament of the Harrisons' generosity.

The Commons has become a signature building,' Bertsch says. A number of universities have visited, modeling their buildings on it, and it has been presented and discussed at many conferences. It is truly a benchmark project for medical education.

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