Delivering a distinct experience for students and community

University of Central Florida and Valencia College, UnionWest at Creative Village, Orlando, FL

The UnionWest at Creative Village shared by Valencia College and the University of Central Florida is built on the edge of the Parramore Community, a historically black residential area in Orlando. Its mission of providing access and equity can be felt in the exhibit displays in the Center and the Academic Commons, which are dedicated to notable community members. Programs engaging with the community and a nearby public elementary school are intended to reach back into the pipeline and bring new students to life-changing opportunities. UnionWest houses the new home of the Walt Disney World Center for Culinary Arts and Hospitality, providing skills and management training for the largest industry in Orlando by the largest employer.  

Atop the five-floor academic and commercial podium is ten floors of housing to revitalize downtown and support the campus with about 600 beds, all wrapped around a 600-space parking garage. By offering housing, UnionWest encourages students to get involved in campus activities, interact with diverse people and have immediate access to downtown jobs. Within the building students have access to retail dining, a recreation center, health and counseling center and student support services. The new campus aims to include access to other residential-support services for the whole community. 

The design team worked with representatives and users from both institutions to create a program and experience complimentary with the concurrently-designed Dr. Phillips Academic Commons across the street. Both buildings were the first to be completed as part of the new downtown campus. To reinforce the downtown feel, flooring is reminiscent of finished concrete, and concrete columns and ceiling spaces are selectively exposed to maintain a balanced acoustic environment. 

Nearly 25 percent of UCF graduates began at Valencia College as part of the Direct Connect to UCF program, so creating a co-branded experience was key to the success of the UnionWest; where a student from one institution can be in a classroom or seeking services from cross-trained advisors as a student from the other. Each floor is individually branded with an accent color that begins on the first floor with the shared UCF/Valencia gold and ends on the fifth floor with Valencia’s signature red. Many unions can claim programming challenges when multiple stakeholders are involved, but UnionWest stands apart in its seamless blending of two academic institutions in a developer-driven tenant fit-out model, with one of the most recognizable commercial brands supporting a signature academic program.