Patio in Plemmons Student Union redesigned by students


Howard’s Knob Patio, located on the third floor of the student union will be undergoing construction to make it a more popular location for students.

Erin O'Neill, Reporter

This spring, students in the Architectural Design Studio IV class, were challenged by Jeff Cathey, director of the Department of Student Engagement and Leadership, to come up with designs that would bring new life to one of App State’s best-kept secrets, Howard’s Knob Patio.

The third-floor outdoor roof terrace at Plemmons Student Union is a highly visible yet severely underutilized space in the heart of campus, according to the Sustainable Technology and the Built Environment website.

The challenge, part of the Black Mountain College Spring 2018 semester, involved the collaboration of multiple departments across App State with museums and other venues to “host exhibits, lectures and workshops that will highlight the importance of BMC’s influence within the Appalachian region’s creative, educational and political movements,” according to the Center for Appalachian Studies website.

David Jason Miller, who teaches the Architectural Design course, split his 18-student class into three teams to complete the project. Each group was assigned with the task of coming up with a unique proposal for the patio. The teams needed to transform the patio into a multi-functional space that could be utilized for everyday use, as well as for special events. The teams also needed to incorporate sustainable elements into their designs.

“They came up with some very unique strategies for how to integrate photovoltaic systems as an evident piece of the architecture, not just here’s a roof, let’s put panels on the roof,” Miller said.

The use of photovoltaic systems meant the teams were utilizing a power system designed to supply solar power that could actually be used on the patio or elsewhere on campus.

“I think what’s notable is that (the student union) and the Office of Sustainability saw value in asking students in our program to develop design proposals because there’s a real opportunity to connect what we do in the classroom to how we improve our campus community,” Miller said.

Miller said the dedication to these more environmentally-friendly measures helped the students to learn more about Black Mountain College as well.

“The commitment to proposing unique renewable energy strategies and sustainability strategies in both design and resource conservation was a way for us to really talk about the ethos of Black Mountain College and design proposals for a real client with a real desire to see change in that space,” Miller said.

Cathey also wanted to make the patio “more of a truly outdoor space associated with the union.” Additionally, he said he hoped the teams would be able to add flexibility of space to the terrace and make it more welcoming.

“While there’s a beautiful view of campus up there and it’s outside, I just don’t know that it’s all that inviting, and it seems like it could be a lot more than it is,” Cathey said. “We’ve taken pride for a long time in the union being a model of sustainable investments on this campus and so (Howard’s Knob Patio) could be a continuation of that.”

Although Cathey said he has great interest in the space, there are other major projects within Plemmons Student Union that need to be completed before the terrace renovations can come to fruition.

“We’re going to be re-roofing the majority of Plemmons Student Union in the next two years, which is a lot of money. So, a reality is I don’t think we’re about to move on anything with Howard’s Knob Patio in the immediate sense,” Cathey said.

Despite the delay, Cathey said he is enthusiastic that the possibility of a redesign is something he can keep in his back pocket.

“Sometimes down the road, even if it’s three to five years from now, it’s much easier for me to talk with the vice-chancellor or chancellor about something when there’s a vision, and the students really did some nice work on giving us potentials for that,” Cathey said.

Story by Erin O’Neill

Photo by Paola Blanco-Bula

Featured photo caption: Howard’s Knob Patio, located on the third floor of the student union will be undergoing construction to make it a more popular location for students.