Carnegie Mellon University
Wean Hall Lobby Renovation &
La Prima Cafe Expansion

  • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • Completed August 2018
  • Expansion & Renovation
  • 2,700 square feet

Wean Hall is a hub of activity on Carnegie Mellon University’s Campus, and prior to its lobby expansion, could not serve its visitors fully. There was not sufficient room for the much-desired La Prima coffee shop to operate efficiently, long queues would bring the flow of students to a halt, and the tinted, recessed glass didn’t permit natural light or a good connection to the outdoors.

In order to meet the University’s dual goals of creating a high-quality student experience space and welcoming front door for recruitment, an intentional rethinking of the lobby was required. The new Wean Hall lobby is a beacon of connection. Providing opportunity to find a snack, a friend, or a respite for study, its elegant form establishes an irrefutable presence on the campus lawn, The Mall.


From across the smooth lawn of The Mall, diffused light sets the glass prism aglow beneath its brutalist concrete shadow above. Wean Hall sits as a silent guard with its brothers and sisters in steady rhythm, watching students, faculty, and visitors flow about the campus. Drawn closer to the illuminated entry, visitors find a minimal, streamlined vestibule that showcases the gem within. Moving through the fresh and vibrant gateway, the intense, earthy aroma of coffee permeates the air and electrifies the senses.

In the bustle between classes, students swim through the lobby like fish in a stream, many stopping to replenish their fuel reserves with La Prima cold brew or a fresh croissant. Visitors have the opportunity to sit, study, or socialize in the expansive yet comfortable lobby space.

Playful furniture creates a sedentary oasis surrounded by high-speed pathways that shepherd students from origin to destination. The hum of voices rises with La Prima’s music in between classes – there is always movement.

Wean’s Brutalist, overhanging snout was not going away – so the design team asked, how do we transform an ominous opening into a positive experience that compliments the existing architecture? By embracing the intensity of this building and channelling it into the design, the end result glows with harmony arising from contrast.

The light and airy crystal pushes out at its enclosure with a force of its own, while curtainwall deftly glides upward behind its concrete envelope. In the interior, warm wood compliments the raw concrete, with white cabinetry and quartz countertops mediating between the two. A sloped, white ceiling echoes the form of the concrete above and hosts fixtures that illuminate the space at all times of day and night.

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