Education, Hospitality, Mass Timber

Tony and Libba Rane Culinary Science Center

Auburn University Dishes Out Sustainable Southern Hospitality

At Auburn University, hospitality is both a curriculum and a culture.

The ethos of hospitality permeates the Auburn, Alabama, university, and its School of Hospitality Management reflects that southern value as it educates the industry’s future leaders. 

So when the design team at Cooper Carry came together to plan the school’s new interdisciplinary Tony and Libba Rane Culinary Science Center, projecting a welcoming face to the community was a priority.

The design showcases the center’s mass timber food hall, dubbed the Hey Day Market, as a campus destination with plenty of visibility from the street level, says Brian Campa, principal and design director at Cooper Carry, the architect-of-record for the $110 million-dollar project.

“As all the traffic on the main street in Auburn goes by, they have glimpses into the courtyard and all the exciting stuff happening within the food hall,” Campa says. “This was an intentional change in the design—a decision we made to break up the program and connect it to the wider community. This transformed it from an introverted closed-off solid building into more of an extroverted opening, welcoming environment. I think that was a big pivotal moment in how the project was envisioned.”

A World Class Hospitality Experience Promotes Community Engagement, Transparency, and Teamwork

Designed to be a first-of-its-kind teaching facility, the new culinary science center brings together a wide range of different building types in a way that’s unusual for an academic facility, Campa says. “A lot of different studios and expertise at Cooper Carry came together—education, hospitality, commercial retail, mass timber—to make this project a reality,” he says.

The 142,000-square-foot multi-building complex pairs the Hey Day Market with interactive food laboratories and teaching spaces, a hotel and spa,, a premier restaurant featuring a rotating chef in residence, a wine appreciation lab, and a rooftop terrace for special events. A microbrewery and tasting room and café and coffee roastery are in the works and are set to be added in 2023.

Campa says the center is part of a bigger idea, promoting new ways of learning, encouraging all of these functions—hospitality management, culinary arts, restaurant operations, hotel and spa—to truly collaborate. Along with serving as a cutting-edge educational facility, the center caters to the wider Auburn community and its visitors to deliver a five-star hospitality experience. 

“To create a supportive design, you put all the exciting back-of-house stuff on display,” Campa says. “The teaching food labs have glass walls, the kitchen and restaurant operations are visible—designed to be front and center, giving a peek behind the scenes.” The facility’s design promotes transparency and teamwork in an industry that can sometimes be a harsh, demanding environment, he says.

At the same time, the food hall will offer budding chefs and local entrepreneurs an opportunity to operate as part of a thriving food hall experience. The university expects it to become a vibrant addition to Auburn’s culinary scene and a favorite gathering place for students, family and friends—and community members—on the city’s South College Street. Its opening day in the summer of 2022 attracted hundreds of students, faculty, staff and residents of the historic college town.

Culinary Exhibition Classroom
Rendering Credit: Cooper Carry

Food Market Showcases Eco-Friendly Mass Timber for the Masses

The design team’s choice to use mass timber for the food hall helps to create a warm, welcoming aesthetic that reflects the facility’s hospitable spirit while supporting its demands for flexible open space. Mass timber complements the design guidelines of the university, giving a nod to historic, turn-of-the-20th-century post-and-beam warehouses while still achieving an equally clean, crisp and modern look. The food hall’s mass timber components include glued-laminated timber (glulam) columns and beams supporting five-inch cross-laminated timber (CLT) roof slabs, all fabricated from locally sourced southern pine.

“Auburn takes a lot of pride in our image and character on campus,” says Mary Melissa Taddeo, campus architect at Auburn University. “There’s a lot of red brick, a lot of limestone on campus. This facility definitely fits the bill there, and the addition of the mass timber component is pretty new to us—but nonetheless integrates seamlessly and really adds warmth and character.”

There was some initial hesitation to use mass timber on this project and a perception that it might drive up costs, according to Chrissy Perez, senior associate at Cooper Carry and project architect for the culinary center. But those fears were allayed.

“When we were in the middle of design, every time we had a deliverable, the project manager would go back and check his budget, to make sure that we were staying on track. A couple of times we considered whether it would be faster and cheaper to go with steel,” Perez says. “But after conversations with our structural engineer and a few iterations on what that building would look like as a steel structure, we did find that changing to a traditional steel building was significantly more expensive and more difficult to build than the mass timber.” 

Food Hall
Rendering Credit: Cooper Carry

Along with cost savings, the Cooper Carry design team cited a number of benefits realized through the use of mass timber.

The 10,000-square-foot food hall’s mass timber construction played an important role in giving the project a natural warmth while helping to cut the overall carbon footprint of the project.

Faster, quieter, and more efficient assembly meant the food hall’s mass timber structure was constructed in just a few weeks, using just-in-time delivery—an advantage given the space-limited, street-facing urban site.

The long-span mass timber design offers significant flexibility and versatility, reducing the number of columns and affording an open spacious footprint. Within the food hall, individual vendors are housed in mobile substructures that can expand, contract or be reconfigured as needed, with equipment that can easily connect to exposed HVAC, exhaust and other industrial cooking systems.   

By using mass timber, the project team was able to eliminate a lot of fireproofing when compared to an equivalent steel structure. “In a fire, the glulam and CLT chars on the outside while retaining strength, slowing combustion and allowing time to evacuate,” Campa says.

Food Hall
Rendering Credit: Cooper Carry

Town and Gown: A Communal Feast with Local Culture and Flavor

Overall, the project served and continues to serve as a demonstration of the innovation, speed of construction and environmental benefits of mass timber—with the design team hosting several tours for students attending the University’s School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture. And beyond this project, Auburn University has made a commitment to further the use of locally produced mass timber products—its College of Forestry, Wildlife and Environment, in partnership with several other academic colleges and administrative offices, recently hosted the first cross-laminated timber conference in the southern U.S.

But more than just a showpiece, the Hey Day Market is intended to be an incubator for both students and local entrepreneurs, further connecting the facility’s mission to the City of Auburn. 

“We are looking to really support local entrepreneurs and students looking to test food and beverage business models while drawing in the community. There’s a financial commitment upfront from each vendor and a portion of their proceeds each month comes back to the university as well. We think the flexible design of the stalls, the use of long-spanning, column-free mass timber really supports the project’s goals,” Taddeo says.

Outdoor Market
Rendering Credit: Cooper Carry

Project Details

  • Project Name:
    • Hey Day Market
  • Location:
    • Auburn, AL
  • Type:
    • Assembly
  • Architect:
    • Cooper Carry
  • General Contractor:
    • Bailey-Harris Construction
  • Structural Engineer:
    • Britt, Peters and Associates Inc.
  • Timber Products:
    • CLT, Glulam
  • Size:
    • 142,000 ft² (Culinary Science Center), 9,200 ft² (Hey Day Market)
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