Polshek forum seeks student input on Baxter

Several members of the Polshek Partnership, the architectural firm designing the new Baxter Hall, met with Dean Roseman and interested students at two open forums on Thursday. The forums were an opportunity for students to comment on the as-yet incomplete plans for the new Baxter Hall, and focused mainly on the basement level of the new building.

Before discussing any section of the building in-depth, however, Roseman walked the audience through a short PowerPoint presentation that the trustees had seen and, she said, greatly approved of, only a few days before. Students also had the chance to study plans, sections and models of the $36 million project.

Afterward, architects Greg Clawson, Baxter Project Manager and Stephen Chou, Project Assigner, answered students’ questions and solicited suggestions about the building’s tentative design. Aside from a student sports center at the University of Los Angeles, Baxter is the first all-purpose student center that the Polshek Partnership has ever designed. For inspiration, they have organized forums with Williams students several times previously, and also visited other student centers, including those at Middlebury, Amherst and Babson colleges.

Though entirely different in façade and size, the new Baxter will use the current building’s foundations, and thus follow the same general shape. The building has four functional levels: a basement used primarily for social spaces such as a pub and game room; a first floor holding general meeting spaces such as the Snack Bar, a mailroom and a “Great Hall” that will tower up to the top of the building; a second floor occupied primarily by a dining hall and a third floor holding space for student organizations, such as Peer Health and the Record.

The exterior will be a clear departure from the current Baxter design. The façade is composed of layers of different materials, including glass, wood and brick. The glass provides a sort of “fishbowl” effect, with passersby able to see what is going on inside the building from the outside. The building will also include a three-season porch.

The Snack Bar remains a social hub of the new design. As the architects envision it, the Snack Bar will occupy the same circular space that it currently does, although it will extend more into the rest of the building than before.

The three-story Great Hall, which will be the centerpiece of the ground level, will offer overflow social space adjacent to the Snack Bar and serves as a thoroughfare for the entire building. It is expected to have several comfortable couches, and perhaps a fireplace. Not wanting to make it simply another study space, however, the designers are considering installing a few e-mail terminals without providing additional laptop jacks. Several members of the audience expressed a desire for internet access in the Great Hall, as well as wireless access availablity throughout the building.

A few other high-traffic spaces will also connect to the Great Hall, such as the mailroom and an area for tabling.

Directly below the circular portion of the Snack Bar (in the basement) will be a pub. Adjacent to the pub will be a social lounge, where the architects imagine things like pool tables, foosball tables, pinball machines and a big screen television. Next to the social lounge will be a multi-purpose room, which will be larger than the social lounge and can be used for concerts and parties, as well as performances.

Roseman said that because of the new space available in the proposed building, it is possible that the College will look into changing the role of the Log – perhaps converting it into a college bookstore.

As the College does not want the pub to simply “duplicate the functions of the Snack Bar,” the pub may not offer the kind of food that will be available at the Snack Bar. Roseman also mentioned that the new Snack Bar will have a much more extensive menu than does the current one, including brick-oven style pizza.

As a result of this decision, however, students may have to visit both the Snack Bar and the pub to purchase certain combinations of items. Although students will be allowed to bring food from one venue to the other, current design decisions may make this process more difficult than some would like. Despite the Snack Bar’s proposed location directly above the pub, there will not be a stairway that directly connects the two. Chou said this decision was primarily influenced by fire code laws.

Solutions that are being considered include a dumbwaiter between the pub and the Snack Bar and the ability to order snack bar food at the pub and then pick it up at the Snack Bar when it is ready.

Much of the discussion focused on whether or not the social lounge should be directly connected to the pub.

The consensus of the audience was that it should be, as it would both draw people to the lounge and provide overflow space for the pub. Clawson and Chou cited this idea as one suggestion very likely to be incorporated into the next design.

The architects were also interested in soliciting student feedback regarding how to entice students to use the pub during the day, as it would likely stay open and serve non-alcoholic beverages.

This question prompted several suggestions. One such comment was that the pub should receive some amount of natural light.

Chou said that because the Snack Bar will actually be a little bit smaller than the pub, it may be possible channel light through the ceiling. It was also suggested that newspapers and magazines be available during the day, but Dean Roseman said that she was hesitant to have the pub overlap with the functions provided by the Great Hall.

Several other concerns were raised regarding the proposed designs. One, regarding so-called “sustainable architecture,” was met with the response that the most recent plans include an extra $1 million of funds specifically allocated to environmental considerations.

Had the College chosen to go forward with every environmental upgrade it was considering, the cost would have been a further $1.1 million.

“We can’t do everything, and we wouldn’t actually want to do all those things,” Roseman said.

Another concern was that the new facility’s exterior design may not blend in with the rest of the campus. As the architects envision it, the exterior will have a large amount of glass. The architects feel, however, that being able to see what’s going on inside the building is worth the glass necessary to accomplish it.

“It is a very modern building,” Chou said.

Another issue raised was whether there would be space available to display student artwork.

Although there will not be a room dedicated specifically to this purpose, Chou said that there would be “niches” for student art in many of the proposed rooms.

As the project moves forward, one of the next steps will be to have individual meetings with the various groups that will have space in the new building, such as WCFM, the Outing Club and the Record. The architects estimate that it will still be approximately a year before the plans are entirely finished.