Opened: September 2019
The spirit of the author J.R.R. Tolkien weaves throughout the University of California, Irvine. The hobbit connection goes back to the 1970s when Tolkien’s books were popular and students were entrusted to name their community. (That strategy also resulted in the school having an anteater for a mascot.) So now the residence halls have names like the Shire, Grey Havens, and Gondolin, among others. And of course, when a revised 215,000-square-foot housing and student-life center went up in the Middle Earth neighborhood, it had to be called Middle Earth Towers.
The two structures that make up Middle Earth Towers (individually named Laurelin and Telperion) have beds for almost 500 students, as well as dining, study spaces, and other amenities. As the first housing development located on the Ring Road (more hobbits!), it foretells future development as well as providing a valuable update to the residential neighborhood that dates back more than five decades and had featured mostly smaller low-rise buildings.
The result is striking as the two residential towers, a mixture of limestone and glass, rise out above the trees and landscaping. Inside, student suites are connected by gathering spaces, called Link Lounges, on each level, featuring kitchens, laundry, and viewing areas. The dining facility can seat 949 (including outdoor seating) and can serve 10,000 meals a day (a sign inside directs students to “second breakfast”). There is also the Side Door convenience store and Dome of Stars multipurpose room that is host to a variety of events. There are two individual gender-inclusive bathrooms on each residential floor as well as a gender-inclusive, ADA, public-access restroom on the second floor. This restroom also has a changing table and foot-washing station.
“Developed in response to student surveys, the Link Lounge serves many programmatic functions (shared living room, media room, communal kitchen, study space, and laundry) and as an active destination that ties the two towers together, physically and socially,” explains Mithun design partner Bill LaPatra. “The space fosters community with a see-and-be-seen fundamental and connects students with the greater campus through sweeping views.”
Dorothy Faris, partner and landscape architect at Mithun, notes how the “landscape and site areas serve as interconnected outdoor rooms that extend the functionality of indoor spaces and create a vibrant experience for UCI students. Outdoor seating invites students to gather and socialize, and extensive bike parking at residential and dining entries supports accessibility.”
—by James A. Baumann