UC Irvine Middle Earth Towers Student Housing Opens at the Heart of the Campus
IRVINE, California — The 215,000 SF Middle Earth Towers housing and student-life center opened at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) on September 16th, providing 495 students with energy-efficient, LEED-Platinum accommodations, dining, learning and amenity spaces along the central campus Ring Road. Led by a design-build collaboration of integrated design firm Mithun and Hensel Phelps, the new facility leverages critical university real estate at the academic core of campus with the introduction of higher density housing and vibrant student amenities that enrich the campus fabric.
Many will recall that Middle Earth is where Hobbits live in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. The existing Middle Earth housing community for freshman and sophomore students at UCI was designed in the 1960s and named in tribute to Tolkien’s enduring stories.
The expansion to UCI’s Middle Earth features two residential towers above a mixed-use podium and richly landscaped base, echoing the natural form and color of the region’s limestone canyons. In the towers, communities of student suites are connected on each level by a “Link Lounge” social amenity space complete with group kitchens, media viewing, and laundry facilities. The two-story podium includes a 750-seat dining facility serving the entire campus population with 7,300 meals daily, amenity space for student interaction, multi-purpose classrooms and new headquarters for the university’s housing administration.
As a design collaboration centered on UCI’s objectives, the new Middle Earth Towers weaves a multi-faceted community into the high-profile academic core of campus and advances the university’s goal of a carbon-neutral campus by 2025. The vertical design expands the university’s capacity to accommodate increasing enrollment and demand for on-campus housing, as mandated by the University of California Office of the President.
“The Hensel Phelps/Mithun team continues to deliver projects that exceed our expectations on every level,” said Brian Pratt, UCI Assistant Vice Chancellor and Campus Architect. “In every measure: student experience, sustainability, quality of the spaces, and connection to the campus, the Hensel Phelps/Mithun team’s work on Middle Earth raises the bar for student housing.”
This design-build collaboration between Hensel Phelps and Mithun builds on the team’s prior success at UCI with the completion of Mesa Court Towers, another freshman student housing project on campus. Having designed more than 5,000 units of student housing through a design-build partnership, the Hensel Phelps and Mithun team has accrued an invaluable body of knowledge through a tested and successful track record of collaboration that benefits the project, the university and students. The team’s collaborations also include Mesa Nueva, Nuevo West and Nuevo East graduate student housing for the University of California, San Diego (UC San Diego).
Vitas Rugienius, Hensel Phelps Operations Manager said, “The beauty in the design-build delivery method is the flexibility of choosing the right team for the right clients. UCI is an experienced owner, as well as a strong proponent of design-build and embraces the team collaborative atmosphere. Through this delivery method, we are better able to control the budget, schedule, and quality.”
According to Bill LaPatra, partner at Mithun, “Our design-build partnership with Hensel Phelps unites the best of both companies to create high-performance facilities and a vibrant, inclusive living-learning community that meets the students’ and the university’s needs. We are thrilled to contribute to the campus fabric and student experience at UCI.”
Dorothy Faris, partner and landscape architect at Mithun highlights, “This is the first residential building on UCI’s storied Ring Road. The landscape rises up and over the first floor to create a central terrace and landform that draws residents of the Middle Earth neighborhood to and through this student life center at the gateway to the academic core of campus.”
The Middle Earth Expansion is designed to help the UCI campus achieve its goal of carbon neutrality by 2025. Building and site are designed to achieve LEED Platinum certification, reduce energy consumption and minimize its carbon footprint. Sustainable strategies include natural ventilation on all residential levels with twice as many operable windows than code requirement, rooftop solar heat collectors to reduce energy required for hot water and a 50.3 kW photovoltaic system.