These Walls: OSU-Tulsa

By Kirby Lee Davis
The Journal Record
January 6, 2011

OSU-Tulsa Campus Photo by The Journal Record

Oklahoma State University’s Tulsa campus consists of six buildings in north Tulsa’s Greenwood District.

TULSA – A sort of agelessness pervades Oklahoma State University’s six-building Tulsa campus.

Conceived as an academic village, the brick, steel and concrete structures lie in clusters largely linked by covered walkways. With their broad footprints and sloped overhanging roofs, the spreading grounds project a prairie or ranch style prevalent across this former frontier.

“They wanted to have something that felt regional,” said Vic Thompson, a senior associate with the Tulsa architectural firm PSA-Dewberry. “When you lay a style on this area, probably the most recognizable is art deco. They didn’t want to pursue that. They wanted something uniquely different. That’s kind of where the prairie style came about.”

The pristine look and feel of those window bands, broad atriums, shaded courtyards and tile artworks denote a deceiving consistency. PSA-Dewberry draws a lot of credit for that, having designed all six structures along a conforming style that hides the two-decade age difference between them.

“That’s always an objective of ours, to try and design it as a timeless style,” said PSA-Dewberry Principal David L. Huey.

OSU-Tulsa’s campus dates back to 1986, when the newly formed University Center at Tulsa took 200 Greenwood District acres to establish Tulsa’s first publicly owned center for higher education. That effort gathered different programs from the state’s two largest universities, plus Langston University and Northeastern State University. Two years later Flintco finished the first part of its new home, a $22.7 million, 166,625-square-foot central commons area with four wings and a separate bookstore.

“We went through kind of a myriad of options as we started out on it,” said Thompson. “It fairly quickly kind of centered around the basic concept of trying to create an academic village.”

In 1995 Manhattan Construction completed the second phase, a $43 million, three-building cluster now known as the North Hall, Administration Hall and Auditorium, all linked by landscaped stairs, sidewalks and courtyard.

PSA-Dewberry kept the brick, steel and concrete structures in line with the geographic slope, so that a central axis ran from the Main Hall to the north complex and the hilltop just beyond its doors.

The designs also incorporated special glass and other features to conserve energy, predating the U.S. Green Building Council’s now-widespread standards.

“We tried to keep them low-profile,” said Thompson, noting the horizontal lines and sloped roofs. “At the same time we tried to create large two-story faces.”

But as those walls went up, observers had already recognized the lack of momentum in University Center.

As NSU and the University of Oklahoma considered other Tulsa campus options, in 1996 the Legislature placed UCT under the direction of Claremore’s newly crowned Rogers University. Two years later, as NSU received $16 million from Broken Arrow to land its campus and OU entered negotiations to acquire Amoco’s abandoned research center, the Legislature changed gears and put OSU in charge of UCT.

Northeastern State University departed in 2001 with completion of its first Creek Turnpike campus buildings, leaving OSU and Langston sharing the facility. Tulsa County’s Vision 2025 vote in 2003 then provided starting funds for two more additions: Langston’s 25-acre Tulsa campus, carved from the UCT plot, and OSU-Tulsa’s proposed research center.

With aid from the Helmerich family and others, Flintco finished that $47 million-plus project in 2008, bringing the OSU-Tulsa campus to 525,000 square feet. Although the three-story structure stood apart from the existing clusters, separated by parking lots, PSA-Dewberry’s design managed to maintain the prairie styling while adding distinctive flourishes.

Langston’s dream, meanwhile, established its own identity in January 2009 with 33,723 square feet encased in walls of black glass and stone.

Outside of Langston’s nursing classes and leased space by the Oklahoma Department of Commerce and the Oklahoma Educational Television Authority, the 175-acre campus focuses totally on OSU programs.

Last month OSU-Tulsa President Howard Barnett launched a re-evaluation of their master plan, the first time that campus expansion outline has been examined in a decade.

With well over 100 acres available, the 2,700-student university faces a number of options.

“The interesting challenge becomes when and how we leap west,” said Barnett, who foresees a possible classroom addition around Cincinnati Avenue. “We want it to be one campus. I don’t think we want to develop that land over there in a way that it’s isolated. We want it to have a common feel.”