When Tom Rohner, Facilities Director, and his team first interviewed architecture firms about Adler’s new Vancouver campus in February 2015, he noticed something: many of the proposals had a “reserved, stoic” feel. “There was a sense of ‘No, we can’t be loud and dangerous. We have to be prim and proper.’”
Then, there was Public Architecture + Communication.
“These guys were like, ‘Oh no, we see drama and impact.’”
They won the bid.
Two years later, Adler’s Vancouver Campus officially opened its doors at 520 Seymour Street, a light-filled, inspirational 30,500-square-foot space. The facility marks a critical move for Vancouver’s thriving, world-class programs, which over the past decade had outgrown the school’s old campus in the financial district. Now situated in the city’s vibrant educational hub, the space is a home that beats like the heart of Adler itself: progressive, visionary, transformational.
“This celebration represents the culmination of years spent dreaming, envisioning, planning, and building,” said Vancouver Executive Dean Bradley O’Hara, Ph.D., as he kicked off the Grand Opening ceremony on May 1. “Throughout our journey, we sought to create an environment that is a testament to the impactful work of those in our University community.”
“The new space gives us an opportunity to tell our story” he says. Unlike the former campus, which was housed on floors seven and twelve of a corporate office building, the modern glass mid-rise on Seymour gives the Vancouver Campus a street presence it’s never had before—and makes its work visible to a whole new audience.
“The other day I ran out to grab a sandwich and the cashier saw my Adler tag and said, ‘Oh, that’s the building down the street. What’s Adler?’” recalls O’Hara. “When people ask and you tell them our focus, their faces light up. There’s tremendous interest in our mission of social justice. There is no other university in Canada that has that.”
Electrifying the City
Whether greeting incoming students or catching the gaze of passersby, the storefront entrance immediately sets the tone for the campus experience with its ambient red light and brightly painted walls. Inside, a geometric staircase begins its descent up the length of the building, snaking first to the second-floor reception area nicknamed “The Red Floor.”
“Everywhere we have people movement—we called it ‘electricity’ in the design process—we added a dominance of color,” Rohner says. Each level boasts a predominant hue and accents drawn from the Adler University logo: Floor 2 is red; Floor 3, orange; Floor 4, green; and Floor 5, brown.
“These are strong colors,” he says. “What we were hoping to do was leverage color into a graphic for the community, to inspire and encourage.”
It’s working. Locals are already calling the building “The Adler building” and the school’s security guard has even spotted people taking selfies in the storefront’s red glow.
“We’re part of the energy of the city,” O’Hara says. “It allows us to really shine in the Vancouver community.”
Designing the Community
From the start, the campus design team had two guiding principles: the building needed to look like a university and, moreover, it needed to look like their university. “If I took student John Doe from Chicago and put him in Vancouver, he had to recognize he was still at Adler,” Rohner says.
The main entrance does just that, greeting visitors off the street with a half-tone wall print of university namesake Alfred Adler. Just upstairs, a timeline of the school’s milestones and pivotal world events—the Chicago campus has a similar display—commemorates Canadian advances in social justice since Adler’s founding.
Community ethos is another key part of the Adler brand. After learning about the university’s mission and its students, Rohner says, Public Architecture “painted the picture of what this space should be about: collaboration and helping others.”
The final product grew out of a two-year creative process involving all of Adler Vancouver. “We brought forth someone from every corner of the community,” Rohner says. The collaboration kicked off with a conversational “Jeffersonian dinner” hosted by the architects, who invited more than 40 Adler leaders, trustees, faculty, staff, and students to share ideas about place. The idea, Rohner says, was to help the builders “see firsthand the anthropology behind how we exist at Adler.”
From there, the design team hosted several discovery workshops, prompting further discussion around wishes and needs for the new campus. Out of that feedback, and taking into account growth projections and budget, they moved forward. They soon began holding town hall sessions every six weeks to solicit ideas and address concerns.
“We wanted to be as transparent as we could be,” Rohner says.
The process produced a space uniquely designed for Adler. “The fact that it’s purpose-built for us makes the biggest difference,” says Ada Christopher, Vancouver’s Director of Admissions & Program Innovation.
Students learn in classrooms equipped with sophisticated audio-visual technology. They hone their counseling skills in specialized filming rooms. A well-stocked library provides relaxing sanctuary for quiet study. Amid an ocean of color and natural light, people gather to share ideas and camaraderie in collaboration zones peppered throughout campus.
“We created areas that have no formal functioning,” Rohner explains. “This is everyone’s space.”
“A lot of us are drawn to Adler because we believe in the creation of community and the value that it brings. The new campus supports that,” says Adler graduate Tanis Angove, M.A., a former Student Association representative who remembers the challenge of getting students to stick around for events in the old space. “It wasn’t a place to hang out.”
By contrast, she says, “this is a place where you feel inspired to be.”
Change the World
It’s also a place that empowers Adler University students to better reach the communities they strive to serve. Located a short walk from Vancouver’s struggling Downtown Eastside, the campus puts Adler at the epicenter of the city’s most pressing social issues.
“Our mission is more suited to this area of the city,” says Christopher, who oversees many of the university’s community partnerships. “Before, we were very strong academically, but needed to consider our responsibility in this particular neighborhood. What does it mean to be the Downtown East Side’s neighbor? It means we pursue ways of advocating for its residents and supporting efforts to change its fortunes.”
Plagued by homelessness, mental illness, and a devastating opioid epidemic, the Downtown Eastside neighborhood is Canada’s poorest postal code. “Students are more embedded in that community now, creating greater awareness of what the issues look like,” says Angove, who works at the Fraser Health Authority advising family physicians on quality improvement. One of her initiatives is urging doctors to better assess individuals being prescribed pain medications, a common gateway to opioid addiction.
“It’s about making physicians more aware of the implications of their actions on the larger community and the responsibility they have to their community,” she says. On June 9, Adler faculty, staff, and students focused on the opioid crisis as part of its annual Community Action Day, partnering with Portland Hotel Society, a nonprofit that offers shelter, a supervised injection site, and critical health services to those battling addiction.
With Adler students on the frontlines of the issues they are studying, the new Vancouver campus not only gives them an inspiring place to learn, but creates more opportunity to fuel local change.
“It’s easy sometimes to get up, get in our cars, do our jobs, drive home, and exist in our own little bubble,” Angove says. “Being in that space with individuals who are struggling deepens your connection of why you’re doing the work.”