A breakdown of the new dining experience at Santa Clara
October 4, 2018
When a beloved dining venue “closes” for the summer, it’s usually a foreboding sign for loyal patrons to find a new favorite eatery. But in the case of Benson’s triumphant return after a summer’s hiatus, not all closures bring tears.
This summer, Benson Memorial Center’s eateries shut down in preparation for the facility’s “Summer Rejuvenation Project.” According to the University Operations website, the project was intended to create an “open, inviting, casual space for gathering, studying and community building.”
Relying on sleek designs by Mesher-Shing-McNutt—a food service-oriented architecture firm—the team from Build SJC worked at a swift pace (an increasingly rare occurrence in the realm of Bay Area construction) for the past few months, transforming the camp-style cafeteria of yesteryear into a surprisingly upscale restaurant and allowing the Santa Clara community to enjoy the refurbished dining hall at the start of fall quarter.
Hidden behind Benson’s unchanged exterior, the architects at Mesher-Shing-McNutt completely overhauled the interior dining areas, replacing the industrial atmosphere of the old design with a contemporary layout that wouldn’t look out of place in “The Incredibles.”
Booths sporting bubbly, colorful cushions now occupy the spaces once reserved solely for tables and chairs, adding more variety to the seating options.
Modern grays, bright peaches and magentas replaced the earthy, neutral tones of the previous facility. Accentuated by the minimalistic circular lighting installations, these pop culture colors make the space feel like a hotel restaurant, infusing a trip to Benson with the same excitement as a vacation (at least until the newness wears off ).
These aesthetic improvements—serving a higher purpose than simply allowing the designers to pat themselves on the back—directly impact the way students and faculty enjoy the school’s primary dining space.
“I admire the lighter colors because I feel more welcomed and happier,” Ryan Nazari said, a sophomore student who works at the Benson desk. He especially appreciates the break from the darker hues of the old walls and chairs.
Thankfully, Mesher-ShingMcNutt departed from its tradition of darker, moody dining halls (seen in its work at Penn State and Purdue University) to treat Benson to a light and airy design befitting its sunny exterior dotted with palm trees. The plentiful light—now extending into the basement with the aid of three unexpected lightwells cut into the floor—lends Benson a more welcoming environment for all members of the Santa Clara community.
“The staff is preparing the food much more methodically, so I appreciate Benson’s added effort in the food service side of things,” Nazari said, highlighting another important element of the new design—staff efficiency.
The new Mission Bakery—free from the wall it once slouched upon and floating proudly in the center of the space—exemplifies the behind-the-counter transformation of Benson. Mission Bakery’s expanded interior section provides more room for employees to operate compared to the older, claustrophobic interior.
The counters themselves—crucial sites of interaction between staff and patrons—feel more open as a result of the lowered counters and generous use of glass accents. Overall, the feeling of transparency and brightness created by the open design allows for improved synergy between the staff and the guests, enhancing Benson’s sense of community.
Of course, not all aspects of the new Benson seem immediately improved. While the booths and enhanced seating arrangements exemplify welcome changes, the barriers and walls constructed to complement these novel installations obstruct previously open areas of the dining hall.
The two serveries still under construction dominate the center of the main space, segmenting Benson into a series of smaller dining venues and inhibiting the sense of togetherness encouraged by the warehouse feel of the old facility.
However, we should embrace these now differentiated spaces, for their smaller feel generates a level of intimacy unavailable in the past, providing more opportunities for better hangouts and more thoughtful peer interaction.
Maybe the novelty of the renovations—heightened by the plastic-wrapped soon-tobe eateries and the, at times, deafening sound of power tools—makes it easier for returning students to view the changes through the tint of rose-colored glasses.
“I find it’s never hard to find a place to be or hang out,” first-year Shannon Lund said. “What more can we ask of our dining hall?”
While returning students cannot help comparing the new Benson to its previous iteration, most first-year students accept the new Benson as the standard, and the fresh, modern design certainly makes this new standard hard to beat.
Contact Brandon Schultz at email@example.com or call (408) 554-4852.