College selects Stetson architects

After five years of research on the upcoming Stetson/Sawyer renovations, the Stetson/Sawyer committee chose Philadelphia architectural firm Bohlin Cywinski Jackson for the project.

The committee, chaired by David Pilachowski, College librarian, and Michael Brown, James Lambert ’39 professor of anthropology and Latin American studies, selected the firm largely because of its prior work on college campuses and its commitment to designing buildings within the architectural context of those around them.

The firm will most likely build a complex of smaller buildings, rather than a single unified space like the Morley Science center. Abstract proposals suggest renovating Stetson and Sawyer and building an additional structure for offices; building regulations may also force the architects to include a parking garage. Top priority rests in sizing the buildings in accordance with the rest of the campus, as management partner Russell Roberts explains that “what we [build] we don’t want to be overwhelmingly out of scale or out of character.”

Bohlin Cywinski Jackson “seem to have a real gift for building buildings very integrated with surrounding architecture,” Brown said. “[One of the] primary concerns was to get a firm. . . willing to speak to both of these buildings quite different in their history and style.”

Pilachowski also praised the firm’s willingness to work with clients collaboratively, and their “tremendous attention to detail. . . in terms of picking up themes and relating to other buildings, as well as internally.”

Roberts echoed these sentiments in his descriptions of the project. “The most interesting challenge is that Williams is a lovely village setting of buildings that are not all alike,” he explained.

“There are going to be a lot of spaces added [to Stetson Hall and Sawyer Library] and one of the biggest challenges is to add sensitively to the buildings that are there and make the scale fit to the character of the campus.”

The firm has completed recent projects at Syracuse University, Trinity College and Carnegie Mellon University. Other high profile works Peter Bohlin, the Stetson/Sawyer project’s principal architect, include Bill Gates’s home, located on an island off the coast of Seattle, Wash. and the Apple store in SoHo, N.Y.

As a mid-sized firm, Bohlin Cywinski Jackson may also be able to deal with the variety of challenges within the project, including the integration of information technology into the buildings and historic preservation issues. Measures for environmental sustainability will also be taken into account.

With Stetson Hall, the prime concerns are preservation of the original façade, built in the 1920s, and creating additional space, since the new complex must house 185 staff offices as opposed to the current 95. Faculty now located in the Weston language center, Fernald house and Seeley house will be moved to the new complex, which will also include offices for retired professors.

The new building will maintain Stetson’s current integrated classroom-office model, as well as offer more information technology facilities, climate controlled library spaces and air conditioning, which is not present in the current building. To create space without simply continuing the Stetson Hall’s history of haphazard additions, the architects may restore the original Stetson and demolish the additions built during the 1970s. “There is a likelihood that [the design] will take the building down to its original size and add onto it in a way that’s more consistent,” Brown said.

The complex is also likely to include an additional faculty office building, possibly located where the current parking lot is, largely because, as Pilachowski explained, “having. . . all [the offices] in one physical structure may be daunting.”

This construction over the parking lot, as well as zoning regulations, may necessitate the building of a parking structure as well.

Plans for Sawyer are chiefly dictated by the need for additional space for general collections, since current library models project that the library will run out of shelf space by 2006. Polls place the College eighth compared to peer institutions in terms of library holdings and shelf space, behind Amherst, Middlebury, Swarthmore and Bowdoin, among others.

Problems with existing designs will be fixed in the new complex; a key issue has been the existence of the multi-level entrance which entails walking up and down several sets of stairs. Creating more group-study space, like that currently available in Schow Science library, will also be a top priority.

Plans may extend the building outwards on the north side, or fill in one of the current light wells. Also, the entrance may be changed to be oriented towards route 2 and the quad.

Changes to the façade, which Roberts acknowledged as “often considered too severe, too plain,” are also up for debate. But though the firm is dedicated to blending the building in with its surroundings, Roberts maintains that they cannot “create a false history.” Discussing the concept of modern design, he explained, “We live in the time we live in and you can’t disguise that. . . and yet the way you build things has to be appropriate for the setting they’re in.”

The project will also focus on the outdoor space between Stetson and Sawyer, where Russell hopes to create “outdoor rooms.” To incorporate this into the current campus circulation patterns, the architects have consulted Denise Scott Brown’s master plan for the campus, and also intend to spend time speaking with the architects from Polshek Partnership working on the new Baxter. “We’re trying to create a neighborhood here,” Roberts said.

Construction will most likely begin with the additional office building structure, which faculty will have the chance to move into before work starts on the rest of Stetson. Renovation of the current Stetson will follow, with work begun on Sawyer once that structure is complete. Anticipated groundbreaking is in 2005.

Further information can be found at http://www.williams.edu/resources/stetsonsawyer.