On Sunday evening, Swarthmore students returning from Fall Break filtered into the new Dining Center with wide eyes and empty stomachs.
In more ways than one, there was a lot to take in.
Visitors were immediately struck by the diversity of options in seating and eating: Tables included two-, four-, six-, and eight-top varieties on both floors along with outdoor seating on the lower level. Nine food stations, ranging from “The Classics” to “Verdant and Vegan,” served an array of fresh and local dining choices.
“As I walked in, my mouth was hanging open the whole time,” says Daniela Padron Castillo ’24. “It’s really nice to have a new space with so many options, especially from around the world. I’m hoping it will offer food from Mexican culture because that’s what I’ve been missing.”
As part of the larger Dining and Community Commons project, the Dining Center brings to campus a re-imagined dining experience grounded in Swarthmore’s long-standing values of community, inclusivity, and sustainability.
The building’s design arose from a thoughtful and collaborative process that involved over 500 in-person interviews with students. Additionally, 575 faculty members, staff members, and students responded to a survey to share their experiences of dining and socializing at Swarthmore. As the design progressed, members of the College community were kept in the know through a series of meetings and town halls.
One hallmark of the new, space is a greater feeling of openness that allows for more interaction between diners and Swarthmore Dining staff.
“The setup of the different stations really highlights the food and the staff, providing a way for all of them to interact with our students in ways they could not before,” says Associate Vice President for Campus Services Anthony Coschignano. “For example, the ‘Fired Up’ station, which is centrally located in the hearth, allows students to sit at the bar and talk to our staff while they make pizzas.”
“This building brings outside to the indoors,” adds Associate Manager of Residential Dining Gusti Ruhri. “The windows allow in so much natural light and you can see all the green space. We’re no longer working in the dark and it’s great for our spirits.”
This openness also allows diners to move through lines more efficiently, reducing waiting times and associated stress.
“The space feels much more open and freeing,” says Zamir Ticknor ’25. “It doesn’t feel very crowded, even though there are a lot of people in here. There aren’t many lines at all, which is a big improvement over Sharples, where it used to be really crowded in the entryways.”
The College’s commitment to sustainability is also evident in the Dining Center from top to bottom, quite literally: Solar panels covering the entire roof will meet roughly 40% of the building’s eventual power needs. The basement will eventually house the geoexchange plant that is central to the College’s ambitious energy plan, To Zero By Thirty-Five.
Additional sustainable features include a mass timber structural system that is significantly greener than steel alternatives, an all-electric kitchen, long-lasting terrazzo floors, stormwater management and recapture, and a trayless policy that is estimated to save approximately 22,000 gallons of water per year.
Menu offerings will continue to expand as the Swarthmore Dining team grows into the new space and invariably, there will be kinks to work out. As far as first impressions go, however, the Dining Center passed with flying colors.
“I was a big Sharples fan and I didn’t realize how much it could’ve been improved until I walked in and saw this,” says Hannah Humphreys ’25. “Now, I’m beyond excited to have a really nice atmosphere to enjoy this delicious food in.”