Shaping Inclusive Architecture

A student-led facility study using ethnographic research tools reimagines the Student Activities Building at the University of Virginia.

When campus leadership creates opportunities for students to direct their learning experiences, extraordinary outcomes can happen.

As such, students at the University of Virginia gathered for an immersive design workshop to reimagine the Student Activities Building (SAB), an aging 35-year-old performance and rehearsal space just west of the famed Academical Village and Grounds by Thomas Jefferson.

Facilitated by HGA, the team of students, designers, and researchers established a vision for SAB, including:

  • Develop insights about students’ relationship to SAB in the context of the Grounds.
  • Imagine ways of making SAB a successful, inclusive gathering place through the process of co-creating its architecture.
Research Process

The team created a unique research process to understand student input related to the University’s overall planning goals.

To begin, the team developed an on-line journey mapping and questionnaire tool that they publicized on social media, ultimately gathering input from more than 200 students. From this data, they applied ethnographic research, digital spatial mapping, and Design Thinking to develop insights about activities around SAB and the Grounds and co-create several design options in a four-day ideation workshop. They then merged ideas into a final design option that boosted SAB as a campus hub for arts and performance.


The research study won a Certificate of Research Excellence (CORE) Award from the Environmental Design Research Association (EDRA) in 2019, acknowledging the team’s “impactful, practice-based research that sparks innovation and promotes best practice in environmental design,” according to the awards jurors.

To learn more about the Student Activities Building, download the full report:

Designing for Extremes: Using Techno-Ethnography and Immersive Empathy to Shape Inclusive Architecture.