Baylor University Mark and Paula Hurd Welcome Center

Waco, Texas, United States

The story of the Mark and Paula Hurd Welcome Center at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, starts far before the sketches, renderings or countless nights of ideating. The new welcome center began in 2011, during our work on McLane Stadium. While working on the stadium, we identified the plot of land that would be used for the welcome center over a decade later as the perfect front door to the university.  

Challenge. The intent behind Baylor to do right by its students was embedded into every step of the design process for the Hurd Welcome Center. Baylor had a vision for the welcome center that embodied the very essence of Baylor’s campus in one grand building design. The core of Baylor’s vision is baked into the very ethos of our firm — bringing people together in a space reflective of its community.  

Visible from the highly traveled I-35, the welcome center serves as the front door to the university — the first marker visitors, students and faculty see upon arrival. Baylor wanted a space that would make a lasting first impression upon anyone who stepped through its doors. Named after late Baylor Regent, alumnus and CEO of Oracle, Mark Hurd, and his wife, current Regent Paula Hurd, the landmark building provides a space for the Baylor family — past, present and future — to gather and strengthen relationships. 

Innovation. With traditional Baylor campus styling and clad in glass and red “Baylor Brick” with touches of modern architecture, the welcome center seamlessly assimilates with existing campus  milieu, while standing out as a beacon for prospective and current students, staff and alumni.

Baylor is keen on its rich history of long-standing traditions. These traditions unify the campus under common themes of belonging to something much larger than yourself. One such tradition is becoming part of the Baylor Line. 

Before the start of classes, incoming freshmen at Baylor participate in the Baylor Line Camp, one of the most storied traditions on campus. During Line Camp, the students are taken to Independence, Texas — the original home of Baylor University. 

The original Baylor campus is no longer standing, but four stone  columns still remain. Visiting these columns and becoming part of the Baylor Line, part of something larger than yourself, solidifies your connection with the more than 180,000 living alumni. Finding inspiration from the myriad traditions at Baylor, we sought to design a space that encapsulated the Baylor experience through a state-of-the-art venue.  

We integrated an inlaid brass stripe in the center of the white marble-patterned floor in the Grand Hall as a tribute to the Baylor Line Camp. The show stopping centerpieces of the Grand Hall are four 96-foot-tall light columns paying homage to the remaining four columns from Baylor’s original home. 

The engagement of the senses is all part of the experience. We imagined the progression of the visitor from all angles — the walk from the parking lot to the beautiful and inspirational Carlton Hall, a meeting with university staff, and a picturesque view of campus from the auditorium.

Andrea Bays / Principal & Senior Interior Designer at Populous

The four columns, Reflect, Connect, Aspire and Amplify, contain experiential elements allowing users to interact with, learn from and become immersed in the experiences of each column. Lit 24/7, the columns can be seen from I-35 and other points on campus.

Populous’ brand activation team collaborated with AV consultant Electrosonic, digital design studio RLMG, and fabricator Xibitz to bring the detailed experience of these four columns to life. The four floor-to-ceiling columns each have reflective colored glass in Baylor green that follows the angle of the architectural structure. Each column features a brass icon on its exterior, with an artistic expression of what the experience will entail. 

IMPACT. Baylor asked us for a space that would stand as a front door to the university and reflect its ethos to all who interact with it. We used our longstanding relationship and a deep wealth of expertise of Baylors unique culture to create a space that doesn’t just tell a story, but embodies the story itself. The welcome center was designed with such intentionality that it not only tells the Baylor story, but will become part of it in the years to come.  

Services Provided

Utilizing traditional Baylor styling and clad in glass and red “Baylor Brick” with touches of modern architecture, the Mark and Paula Hurd Welcome Center seamlessly assimilates with existing campus properties, while standing out as a beacon for prospective and current students, staff, and alumni.    

The building is comprised of a 23,000-square-foot, 70-foot-tall Carlton Hall flanked by wings. The branches , a specifically designed major feature in Carlton Hall and within the McLane Family Alumni Center, pay homage to the live oak trees throughout Baylor’s campus and reflect students’ passage through the university experience.    

The exterior of the east and west buildings feature red brick and cast stone with punched openings in a stylized version of stained glass, reflective of several campus chapels (and tinted to combat the Texas heat). The expansive glass entryway on the north side of the Grand Hall on University Parks Drive ties this innovative new facility to the historic core of campus by giving passersby a peek at the four illuminated columns that speak to the core and ethos of Baylor: distribute light.  

The first floor of the west branch off the main entrance of Carlton Hall houses back-of-house operations and office space, as well as the 13,650-square-foot, 880-person capacity ballroom, which can be used as one large space or divided into four flexible breakout spaces. It can be configured for lectures, conferences, parties, receptions and other events.  

The second floor of the Hurd Welcome Center is home to the new McLane Family Alumni Center, additional flexible meeting rooms and other offices.  

 The Fudge Family Auditorium, which cantilevers over the south entrance, features 250 fixed Baylor-green seats.  A floor-to-ceiling screen can be used for presentations and lifts to reveal a beautiful panoramic view of campus. 

Interior Design

Keeping with the theme of illumination, Populous designed Carlton Hall to be light and bright, using warm materials that felt comfortable yet elevated, such as a white marble-patterned floor in a large format to emphasize the grandness of the space. 

An inlaid golden brass stripe in the center of the floor from entry to entry represents the Baylor Line starting prospective students on their Baylor journeys while also welcoming alumni home to their alma mater. Flexible groupings of lounge seating areas provide a place for socializing and relaxing.   

The ballroom in the west branch of Carlton Hall is entered through ebony stained oak doors with leather wrapped pulls, and the finishes include an architectural wood ceiling and warm brass sconces.  

Behind the ballroom sits Varsity Coffee & Soda, which has a unique offering as the sole brewer of Peet’s Coffee within 100 miles of Waco. It will also feature Dr. Pepper-infused specialty drinks, paying homage to Waco as the birthplace of the beverage. With this space, Populous leaned into the City of Waco for inspiration — the walls feature reclaimed wood, a wallcovering printed with a vintage photograph of the Old Corner Drugstore in black and white and a 3D brass map of Downtown Waco suspends from the ceiling directly above the service counter.  

Opposite, the first floor’s east branch houses the Cheng Welcome Desk and meeting rooms. Designed with a more residential feel in mind, these spaces feature upholstered Baylor-green banquettes, decorative sconces in a warm gold metal finish and dark material accents through placement of wood and carpeting. These welcome areas can also serve as communal gathering spaces, offering additional places for faculty and students to work, hold meetings or connect over a cup of Peet’s coffee. 

The east wing is also home to the spirit shop. This space was particularly important to the late Mark Hurd, who dreamed of having a space in the Welcome Center where prospective families and alumni could easily secure their Baylor Bears gear on visits to the university.  

The McLane Family Alumni Center on the second floor of the welcome center was designed in stark contrast to the light, bright Carlton Hall it overlooks through large plate glass windows. Elegant and comfortable, the McLane Family Alumni Center’s living room features a dark wood ceiling, almost as if it’s a treehouse in the branches of the Hurd Welcome Center — another hint at the campus live oaks. A tiled fireplace, upholstered lounge seating and brass accents add to the warmth of the space, as do layers of light, implemented through chandeliers and sconces. This space also has a balcony with a view of McLane Stadium, offices and meeting spaces which can be used by alumni and families, as available. 

Brand Activation

When walking through the front doors of Carlton Hall, you’re met with four 96-foot-tall light columns placed strategically along the path of the prospective student to the reception niches.  

Populous’ brand activation group developed the concept of the technology inside the light columns and art directed all on-screen imagery. The team collaborated with AV consultant Electrosonic, digital design studio RLMG, and fabricator Xibitz to bring the detailed experience of these four columns to life.  

These columns each house a design theme — reflect, connect, aspire or amplify — that visitors can interact with. The lower portion of the columns are clad with reflective colored glass that follows the angle of the architectural column structure. Each column features a brass icon on its exterior, with an artistic expression of what the experience will entail.   

Reflect. The Reflect column encourages you to see yourself as part of Baylor. Upon entrance, individuals will find themselves in an optical illusion, as it features six fully reflective surfaces that create a 360-degree mirror effect — an infinity room. A rear projected media surface projects imagery onto the ceiling of the space, giving the illusion of infinite pattern.  

This space offers individuals endless photo opportunities as the AV and lighting constantly loops. The Reflect column encapsulates the value of finding yourself and inner light through self-reflection and noticing the beauty of Baylor in your surroundings.  

Connect. The Connect column allows people to discover the community within Baylor. Individuals enter Connect and are met with a nearly 360-degree media screen that activates based on proximity. The media screen plays a highly-produced and audio-rich first-person hype reel featuring key moments in Baylor student life, from timeless Baylor traditions to electric showcases of Baylor athletics. The ceiling of the Connect column contains a custom light feature of the connect icon — a series of interconnected hexagons — on its exterior.  

Aspire. Aspire encourages users to prosper academically and spiritually. As users enter this column, they are greeted with an LED track spiraling up into the space. This LED spiral, while incredibly visually engaging, is also the first of its kind, again driving home the element of aspiring for greatness.  The interior walls of the Aspire column are clad with perforated gold metal, which are internally illuminated with pulsing light, encircling the room in Baylor branding and colors.  This effect can also be changed for certain events; for example, on game days, you may see the words for the Baylor fight song spiraling up.  

Amplify. The central focus of Amplify, the fourth and final column, is in magnifying and shining your light around the world. It uses powerful alumni messaging to tell this story. A high resolution media display in the shape of a globe sits high in the column. Fully produced media that includes motion graphics, video and audio loops on the globe, and features sound bites from notable Baylor alumni. The center of the column contains a table with an illuminated Baylor logo and captioning screen. The Amplify column wraps up the experience with an optimistic tone, allowing visitors to be inspired by the endless ways they can make a difference through Baylor, and the countless connections they will have with alumni globally.  

Facts and Figures
Gross Square Footage
Construction Cost
Grand Hall Square Footage
Parking Spaces
Project Team
Connect with the designers

Sherri Privitera

Jeff Spear

Andrea Bays

Kobi Bradley

Brooke Craig

Sean Mongey

Ryan Muhl

Gaby Hundley

Rachel Fox Evans

Nick Caprario