New Horizon

A LEED Gold residence hall at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh fosters campus community

Much of what makes a university education special takes place outside the classroom. Community enriches the university experience. When three dormitories at University of Wisconsin Oshkosh reached the end of their physical life span, the school realized it would need to do more than build new housing for students, it would need to build a center for a thriving campus community. For decades, the aging dorms fostered meaningful relationships and lasting memories forged during a critical period of growth for UW Oshkosh students. Anticipation was high for the first new building on the Oshkosh campus since 1967.

The 350-bed Horizon Village Residence Hall was planned as the new centerpiece of the UW Oshkosh residential campus. The University wanted a residence hall to elevate the quality of residence life for sophomore and junior undergrads.

The University leadership challenged VOA to design dwellings that would provide a variety of living arrangements in a compelling building that would foster a strong sense of community. Common spaces within and the surrounding landscape would need to both engage students and set the stage for the shared experiences that make campus life enriching.


UW Oshkosh also wanted to further its commitment to green design. In 2003, UW Oshkosh became the first Wisconsin university to join the EPA’s Green Partnership, agreeing to purchase at least 3 percent of its energy from alternative sources. The university has an aggressive goal to achieve carbon neutrality by 2025. Horizon Village would be held to high standards for sustainability.

The project also offered an opportunity to design unique and memorable recreation areas that would both integrate with the new pedestrian-friendly campus master plan and bond to the Reeve Memorial Union to the north. This required the building to integrate seamlessly with the existing modern residence halls as well as a single family home district nearby.

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The design team held a series of programming and planning charrettes with UW Oshkosh administrators, student life leaders and student representatives to establish the primary goals of the project, collect the ideas and aspirations of the stakeholders and instill a sense of authorship for everyone involved. The design and project name selected by the student body emerged from this process. “Horizon” captures the newness of both the building and the thinking that informed the design, and “Village” denotes the small closely-knit community of people which this project is centered around.

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Suite living space featuring kitchenette

Developed in association with VOA partners Berners-Schober Associates of Green Bay, Horizon Village, the new suite-style student residence hall welcomed student residents in Fall 2012. The 350-bed Horizon Village offers Oshkosh undergrads generous dwelling units and a variety of common spaces for study and recreation. A curved masonry arcade defines a broad recreation lawn above a geothermal well field, one of several sustainable features that earned Horizon Village LEED Gold certification in 2013. Horizon Village elevates residence life through its generous space, vivid color and natural light.

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Five considerations drove the design for Horizon Village.
Campus identity and sense of place: At nearly five hundred feet in length, this bright orange masonry building punctuated by tall glass and steel bay windows cultivates a commanding presence on the campus landscape. The orange Norman brick was chosen for its durability, intrinsic beauty, and to establish a dialogue with the modern brick residence halls nearby.

The five-story building takes a form that gently bends as it conforms to the east side of the site. The curve adds enough length on the west side of the building to make its slope accessible to the disabled, on a site with a grade that drops a full story from the north end to the south. By adhering to the east edge of the site, it defers to the monumental arched roof and curtainwall of Reeve Memorial Union. Together these two buildings form the focal point of student residence life.

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Fulfilling the mission of the institution: Creating a facility that fosters community was the paramount planning and design goal of the Horizon Village owner-architect team. That goal supports the institution’s vision statement: “The University of Wisconsin Oshkosh will be a national model as a responsive, progressive, and scholarly public service community known for its accomplished record of engaging people and ideas for common good.”

Open space and pedestrian circulation: The architecture of the main building block and the curved and straight trellised masonry arcades create attractive outdoor space while channeling students through a single, secure entrance point. This entrance hall in turn provides easy access to the many and varied common spaces on the ground level and to the stairs and elevators that lead students to their homes. Inside, an inviting security station opens to large community recreation spaces with a supporting kitchen and dining area. A spacious lounge with floor-to-ceiling windows features bamboo paneling and a fireplace. The computer lounge is dressed in brick. Floor levels are coded in vivid colors. Navigation areas soften to tranquil living and sleeping rooms infused with natural light.

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Student life and support spaces: The new dwellings are unique on campus in offering two and four bedroom suites that include a kitchenette, bathrooms, furnished living space and storage all suited to the lives of juniors and seniors. Daylighting is maximized. Suite-style units face east and west so that all dwellings receive ample daylight. Living rooms feature floor-to-ceiling glass which admits daylight and provides ventilation. Bedrooms have one window for every student.

Numerous spaces support gatherings of various sizes and functions. The large curved ground floor recreation space inside Horizon Village can host building-wide events. The Fireplace Room on the east side of the building offers a comforting respite from the winter elements. At the central elevator core and the extreme ends of the building, light-filled upper floor lounges provide ample room for study and socializing. The outdoor amphitheater to the north serves as a visual focal point and event space for the entire campus. The semicircular west lawn defined by the masonry arcade has emerged as a campus landmark.


Sustainability: Horizon Village is a model of sustainable residence hall design. Fifty-eight geothermal wells make up the 130-ton capacity heat pump system that provides 60% of the building’s heating and cooling needs. The building exceeds current AIA2030 targets by achieving a 64.4% energy reduction from the baseline building. Effective daylighting strategies and heating and cooling systems save over $110,000 in energy costs annually. Rain gardens, vegetated roofs, bio filters, and sustainable building materials are some of the many additional strategies employed which earned Horizon Village a LEED Gold Certification from the US Green Building Council. Campus-wide initiatives, including the sustainably-designed hall, have garnered a place for UW Oshkosh on the Princeton Review’s selective 2013 Green Honor Roll and a similar high ranking on the Sierra Club’s 2013 roster of “Cool Schools.”

The ultimate testament to the success of Horizon Village has been its endorsement from those that use it every day—the understandably proud UW Oshkosh faculty and student body. “Horizon Village is the result of a lot of thought, guidance and investment by the members of our UW Oshkosh community who call it home — our students,” Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Petra Roter said. “Their vision helped create not only a modern, comfortable and convenient place to support their educational journeys at UW Oshkosh, but also an architecturally striking and environmentally responsible building for this community and region that will last generations, helping advance our students for decades to come. The Gold LEED designation is a really testament to our students’ deep commitment to sustainability.”

160,000 square feet
Team: Bill Ketcham, Steve Siegle, Berners-Schober Associates
Photos by Mark Ballogg

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