UW-Madison Gordon Commons Dining And Events Center

Project Number: #09A3E

Art Budget: $68,000 (Expected to cover all design and fabrication expenses associated with the project.)

Application/Image Deadline: Deadline has passed; for reference only. 

Eligibility Criteria: All artists from Arts Midwest region are eligible to apply (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin)

Art Schedule

Design Due: Nov 2010 to January 2011

Installation: TBD pending location

Building Completion Dec 2012

Architects: Potter Lawson/Cannon Design


The Location

University of Wisconsin-Madison is comprised of fourteen schools and colleges, with a student enrollment of approximately 42,000. UW-Madison is widely regarded among the nation’s premier institutions of higher education, with a long tradition of interdisciplinary cooperation, ground-breaking research and high-quality academic programs. http://www.wisc.edu/

The Gordon Commons project encompasses an entire city block on the University of Wisconsin - Madison Campus. The project site is adjacent to three municipal streets, including Johnson Street to the north, Lake Street to the east and Dayton Street to the south. Gordon Commons served as the main dining hall for Sellery, Ogg and Witte Hall Dormitories since 1965.

The purpose of the new Gordon Commons facility is to replace the existing dining and food production facilities for over 3,400 residents of the Witte, Sellery, Smith, Ogg, Merit and Susan Davis residence halls in the southeast area of campus with new state of the arts facilities. Of these students, approximately 2700 are freshman; and of the 23% upper-class students, most are second year students. The overall goal is to create a facility that will be the new destination of choice for students and staff in the southeast area of campus. It will be in the center of activity—the main stopping point for over 3400 students getting a full meal, a pizza, a cup of coffee, ice cream cone, or some quick carry-out items—the place students go everyday to eat and meet their friends. From students to summer conference guests, to campus staff, to visitors, all will participate in events that occur in Gordon Commons.

Gordon Commons will be the central focus of the surrounding residence halls, and will serve as one of the campus’ main eateries along with the area’s social and learning community center. The existing Gordon Commons is currently used in significantly different ways than it was originally intended and the new facility must also anticipate future changes in how food is provided to students and faculty.

After the new facility is constructed, the second phase of the project include the demolition of the existing Gordon Commons and extensive landscaping of the area to develop the area into a large open green space/lawn during fall of 2012. This new lawn area, immediately adjacent to the Murray Mall (East Campus Mall), is bordered by a double allee’ of trees providing a shaded circulation path along Johnson Street creating a town square ambiance and defines the pedestrian spaces [ image ]. Most of the open space will be lawn-with grass expected to be growing in this area by 2013-along with a landscaped perimeter and terraces. Most of the open space will be lawn with a landscaped perimeter and terraces. The north lawn area will be used for passive recreation use as well as accommodating UW Housing programmed events such as outdoor dining, movie nights, student welcome week activities, and other UW Housing sponsored student oriented events and activities. Basketball and volleyball courts will also be sited in the vicinity. Interior dining areas will overlook the open green space, with an adjacent paved plaza for outdoor dining and events. The Murray/East Campus Mall, located to the immediate west of the project site, provides pedestrian and bicycle circulation through the campus and to the site. Large raised planters with landscaping and trees combined with repeating paver panels and decorative lighting will match the existing mall sections north and south of this project

The North plaza space has been designed to provide a large circulation corridor linking the east and west entries while providing ample access to outdoor dining and seating areas lining the great lawn. A smaller patio at the northeast provides an intimate seating and program area and to accommodate smaller gatherings and food prep areas for large and small outdoor gatherings. This patio features terraced walls linking it to the landscape areas to the northeast useful for overflow and casual informal uses.

In addition to the internal dining functions, the new facility will provide a larger amount of meeting space. During the summer months conferences and workshops for adults (Elderhostel, etc) and youth music, athletic and 4-H groups, will be held here.

The building was planned as a three level structure. It is two stories high along the East Campus Mall and the lowest level is exposed along Lake Street [ image ]. The northern bay of the new facility is a two-story space with vertical circulation that spatially connects the second floor common areas to the first floor. The exterior skin of this element has two story glass window walls that enhance views from the inside and visually expand the interior space to the exterior green space. The activity within the building will also be visible from the exterior, welcoming pedestrians to the space as well as strengthening its image as a social gathering space on campus. In addition, commons spaces such as the Marketplace (with nine different food venues to select from), along with a coffee house/ice cream shop and a convenience store—the Flamingo Run—will be housed on the first floor. The public areas of the second floor-the Maestro Level-will consist of 300 person and 700 person divisible meeting rooms that will be used for conferences and banquets. In addition, a smaller more intimate space, the Ed Gordon room will be located on the second floor. The Lower Level will house the central commissary, a bakery, storage, receiving and other areas in support of the food preparation function.

The southern volume houses four separate large meeting and event rooms along with a small more formal meeting room on the second floor and is defined by the sloping roofs of the two large meeting rooms on the upper level. The sloping roof creates north facing clerestory windows to allow day-lighting into the meeting rooms. Roof overhangs on the south side provide shading for south facing clerestory windows to reduce solar heat gain and glare. The new facility will meet LEED standards. On the north side of the second floor, an open mezzanine overlooks the ground floor dining area and offers two story views to the outdoor dining plaza.

Along the East Campus Mall, the first floor of the building is designed to engage pedestrian traffic with windows that allow views of the dining area and the Flamingo Run Convenience Store. The Convenience Store is a storefront glass corner with a canopy that will encourage passers-by to enter and shop.



“Be the Place Where Everyone Wants to Live” is the Division of University Housing’s mission statement and the goal for the new Gordon Commons. This mission statement is tweaked for other things like dining – Be the place where everyone wants to eat! The selection committee is interested in celebratory artwork that will help make Gordon Commons a special place. Most students will visit the new facility everyday – maybe several times each day – how can the art help make each visit an interesting/unique/fun/great experience? Can the art welcome first time visitors/customers and keep them excited about the artwork over time? The campus wants to make the Gordon Commons and Event Center a destination place—a place that students will want to visit not just because it is the place where their meal plan works. They wish to create a place where everyone/all customers want to visit to eat, meet, relax, hangout, study, and take a break from the chaos. The selection committee is interested in an artwork that will help them do all of that! The new facility will serve as the living room for students living in the nearby residence halls. 


Conceptual Considerations

This facility is a key location for food and sustenance, including nutritional, intellectual and social sustenance. There is a sensibility of a community gathering spot. The selection committee is interested in artwork that would:

  • Serve as a welcoming beacon.
  • Might reference or highlight food in a non stereotypical manner.
  • Be timeless and must bear repeated viewing/remain engaging over time and frequently viewing.
  • Have a strong intellectual and poetic dimension.
  • Be complex enough to allow viewers to learn from it over time and provide a sense of discovery. 
  • Serves, as an ambassador—the artwork needs to be appealing and accessible to non-arts people.

Potential Locations​

The exterior areas surrounding the new facility are beautifully and highly landscaped. As a result the selection committee determined that artwork for the interior of the new facility is preferred.

Interior sites include:

  • The interior wall on the north facing corridor, visible to the first floor. (Artwork in this location should be able to withstand vibration from industrial dishwashers behind the wall.) [ image ] [ image ]
  • The tall fireplace in the north dining area. [ image ] [ image ]
  • The floor or entrance area of the Marketplace. [ image ] [ image ]
  • Aerial artwork in the NW corner stairway, visible to the exterior. [ image ] [ image ] [ image ]
  • A mosaic, photographic panels or another print process applied to the undulating wall in the beverage area of the Marketplace. (Artwork in this location would be located within the food service areas.) [ image ] [ image ]
  • In fill or treatment of the unglazed clay wall on the second floor. [ image ]

Potential Materials For Artwork

The selection committee is interested in materials that would be durable and permanent and would bring a feeling of warmth to the facility. The selection committee is not interested in artwork that makes uses of technology for this facility. Some locations are in close proximity to food services areas and will be subject to vigorous cleaning. The selection committee is interested in materials that support the artist’s concept.