In the fall quarter of 2011, a newly renovated Miller Hall was occupied by students for the first time. A $51.5-million project of the 134,000 square foot building located on Western Washington Universities campus provided roughly 500 jobs in Whatcom County and generated over $78 million in local economic activity. The original structure was built in 1943 and served as WWU’s Campus School, which was later enlarged in 1968. It had not been touched for over 40 years, creating great need for the upgrades that would take place, “The project included renovations to general university classrooms, computer labs, instructional space, offices and support facilities for Woodring College of Education, Department of Modern and Classical Languages and the Center for International Studies” (Western Today). However, the most drastic change to the function of the building would be the addition of the Student Collaborative Space, where students can “meet and study.” The renovation converted the existing courtyard into a lounge, something that could be used year round in rainy Bellingham versus the few dry weeks in the early fall and late spring. With floor to ceiling windows, display of artwork, and vegetation engulfing the exterior walls of the building, it’s a breath of fresh air from some of the claustrophobic, poorly lit buildings on campus. If you’re in search of place where you can relax and hang out with your peers, or wanting to study in the comfort of natural light without the restrictions of weather, then I would highly recommend making your way to the lounge in Miller Hall.

For those who attend Western, Wilson library seems to be the most common place to study. It can house a large amount of students, has a variety of resources and best of all there is Zoe’s Bookside Bagel Shop which conveniently serves as an ideal place for refuge after hours of working. Although the amenities that the library provides makes being a student just a bit less dreadful, coming here routinely becomes a drag. Being at the library every day, you may begin to realize the chairs are incredibly uncomfortable, the overhead fluorescent light will foster a headache like no other and no matter what there will always be a line at Zoe’s. A time will come when a change of scenery may be the last glimpse of hope when the immense contemplation of dropping out and never looking at a textbook again is the only thing on your mind (don’t tell me you haven’t considered this at least once). I myself find it crosses my mind all too often, however I’ve found my coping mechanism, one that makes me feel revitalized and eager to finish strong, go out with a bang, cross the finish line. My mechanism is the lounge in Miller Hall.

Based on what I’ve observed, this lounge is living up to its name of being a collaborative space. Being the location of interview sessions, photo shoots, film productions and even where the dedication ceremony of the completed renovation was held, this place is being used to its full potential. With the vast amounts of natural lighting the room provides, it creates for a bright and warm atmosphere. One can slump in the plush couches surrounding the coffee tables for a relaxed feel or sit in the high bar stools which give an overhead view of what’s left from the courtyard that previously occupied the space. Because of the environment that has been created here, the most common use for the place is studying and socializing.

The lounge has many things to offer other than just being aesthetically pleasing. It is centralized. It is in close proximity to Red Square, the “center” of Western, which means it’s also near a majority of the academic buildings, the library and Viking Union. To get to the lounge, enter through the west side of the building and you’ll be welcomed by a coffee shop. Behind that is Miller Market, which has the best variety of “healthy” snacks and beverages to purchase. Right behind the Market is the lounge. It almost appears as its hidden, something meant to be unexpectedly stumbled upon. However, it seems to have been stumbled upon by many students, for it more often than not every table occupied. Although something seems to be a little off. Being that every single chair has a student in it, the lounge is rather quiet most days. One would step into a lounge expecting to hear conversation fill the room, being that it’s a public gathering place. Not here. Each student either has their nose in a book or food in their mouth. Although there will come a time when the room has a buzz of cheerful voices and ear to ear smiles, this will usually occur closer to the weekend when students know they can forget responsibilities even if it’s for just a few hours.

“Spending just a few minutes in the lounge completely transforms all senses, tricking you into believing you’ve stepped into another world.”

The thing I do appreciate about the lounge the most it’s the year round accessibility. We have to make sacrifices for the thriving, luscious vegetation that makes the Pacific Northwest the desirable outdoor escape it is, especially being so far north in Bellingham. That sacrifice being the weather pretty much controls all aspects of our day’s activities. One can’t stay inside forever, which leaves two options. Get used to the rain or move. I’ve learned to accept that socks will become soaked, fingers pruned and hair drenched (umbrellas are a laughing matter and a dead giveaway of tourists). There will come a time however when being outside is all you crave, but the weather won’t allow it. When I step into the lounge I almost forget I’m technically confined to the inside by four walls, perhaps because I’m technically not. With the walls being made of windows, you can satisfy your desire of being outside, without actually being outside. No, it’s not really the same thing, but sometimes we have to make do with what we have. Spending just a few minutes in the lounge completely transforms all senses, tricking you into believing you’ve stepped into another world.

The Student Collaborative Space in the final stages of renovations

No place is perfect though. You can never predict how people are going to utilize the space on a daily basis. This is why it may be helpful to know a few things about the lounge. Timing is everything. If you’re wanting to come here for a quiet, tranquil place to study be advised it is very busy during the day, from about eleven in the morning to five or six at night. Early morning, late at night, or the weekends are the most ideal times for studying. If you’re wanting to pass time between class and meet up with a friend, anytime throughout the day will work. Although, be prepared to relocate because at times there will be nowhere to sit. This is probably the biggest exception to considering the lounge as perfect. It is limited in space.

There’s a reason this lounge is always full of students and being used for a variety of purposes. It isn’t so much a lounge but rather a place of in between, somewhere to take a step back from the chaotic lifestyle of a student. This lounge is a sanctuary that has been created with a certain lifestyle in mind. The architecture and design of the room has created an atmosphere with a considerable amount of appeal and popularity. There’s never been a time when I’ve witnessed a somber ambiance in this lounge. Maybe this will lead to a demand of more lounges with a purpose of versatility and comfort and start to change the way public spaces are designed. The more time I spend in the lounge the more I begin to think about all the places I spend the majority of my time at and how once you take a step back and really observe a place, you will begin to see it purpose and learn to use it at its full potential.

Photos courtesy of Western Today & Raumrot.com

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