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Look up to the skies

The Mori Hosseini Student Union at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University takes home a Silver Award in the 2020 Building Team Awards.

October 22, 2020 |
Embry-Riddle's new student union, shaped like birds in flight

The wing-like exterior design of the Student Union is inspired by birds in flight and is meant to convey the school’s mission for innovation and discovery. All photos: Brad Feinknopf.

During the early design stages of this project, the university’s aeronautical technology students were asked to suggest ideas. Apparently, more than a few of them told the design team that they spend a good portion of their time gazing up at the sky, imagining and dreaming. 

From that survey emerged the Student Union’s centerpiece: a dynamic, 200-foot-long arching skylight beneath which the building’s library sits. The design of the Student Union, which is located at the entry of the school’s Daytona Beach campus, was inspired by the gracefulness of birds in flight, and expresses the school’s mission to teach the science, practice, and business of aviation and aerospace. (Indeed, its design concept has been dubbed “built vision in flight.”) 

The building’s large overhanging roof is fashioned as wings and shades most of the glazed façade. The building’s structural expression is meant to convey a message of innovation and discovery. That includes curving structural arches that define an outdoor plaza along the campus’s Legacy Walk.


A roof terrace on the second floor lets students gaze onto Daytona International Airport’s runway and Cape Canaveral’s launchpad.


The roof skylight is a technical feat, in that it needed to minimize sun and heat which, in Florida, can be intense. At the direction of the school’s Board of Trustees—which since 2014 has included the building’s namesake, Mori Hosseini, Chairman and CEO of the homebuilder ICI Homes—the design team visited facilities with glass roofs around the country in search of solutions. The team then worked with glazing manufacturers to design an innovative triple-glazed window unit for the roof that limited solar heat gain with visible light transmittance.

The project’s structural engineer, architect, and contractor worked closely to come up with a lamella-like structural grid that could be fabricated off sign and erected in sections to keep the project on schedule.

To resist wind uplift at a hurricane-prone site, the Building Team reinforced the roof overhang with steel tubing.


A three-tiered interior commons area ties together the Student Union’s programming elements.


The Student Union is, in essence, an aeronautical athenaeum whose programming is a combination of academic and social spaces. A three-story-tall indoor commons ties together various interior elements of this “city within a city” that include a 900-person events center on the first floor that’s divisible into six salons, and the library, food court and dining hall on the upper floors. Group study rooms, student club offices and the library surround a Great Lounge. 

A roof terrace on the second floor allows students to see the adjacent runway of the Daytona International Airport, as well as the occasional rocket launch at nearby Cape Canaveral Florida.

The Student Union was designed to achieve LEED Silver certification. Its sustainable elements include LED lighting, daylight harvesting, a fully automated photo-optic lighting control system, high-performance HVAC, and a stormwater collection network with a rain garden.

All told, the building took two years to construct and more than 6,100 pieces of structural steel were needed to anchor it. More than 4.2 million lbs of structural steel and 57,000 sf of glass were installed. 


A 200-ft-long skylight with 57,000 sf of triple-glazed glass lets abundant natural light into the Student Union’s library, and allows students to look to the sky for motivation.


The university has stated that the Student Union is the most significant addition to its Daytona Beach campus in 50 years. The Union’s opening ceremonies included such dignitaries as then-Florida Gov. Rick Scott, and U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chou. (The aerospace and aviation industries are major drivers of Florida’s GDP.) Embry-Riddle attributes a 25% increase in student applications in part to the opening of the Student Union, as well as recognizing its contribution to student retention.

Hosseini also sees the Student Union as symbolic of the university’s future. “It’s about where Embry-Riddle is going next,” he said.


Submitting firm, Architect, AO: ikon.5 architects
Owner: Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
Structural Engineer: Thornton Tomasetti
MEP Engineer: OCI Associates
Civil Engineer: Parker Mynchenberg and Associates
GC:L Barton Malow
Landscape Architect: Prosser 
Size: 177,000 sf
Construction time: July 2017 to January 2019
Cost: $75 million
Delivery method: Design-Bid-Build
Photo credit: Brad Feinknopf

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