Stetson/Sawyer architects talk with students

About 20 students attended a meeting about the upcoming Stetson and Sawyer renovations with architects from the Philadelphia firm Bohlin Cywinski Jackson last Tuesday and contributed conversation topics ranging from student study habits to the presence of modern architecture on campus. The meeting, which followed a similar gathering with the library staff, focused on establishing the uses of the current building and constructing a ‘wish-list’ for the new library design.

The project, which will include massive renovations to both Stetson and Sawyer, may also include plans for additional smaller buildings and even a new parking garage. The College has not yet priced the project, though administration guesses that building will probably take place about a year after the groundbreaking for Baxter in the summer of 2005. Preliminary design plans will most likely be ready next fall.

“We know a lot of people have reason to dislike this building [Sawyer],” said Frank Grauman, one of the project’s principal architects. “We want to be alert to what people like.” Grauman also urged students to “not be constrained by the present building,” in hopes that students would make larger requests, as well as those for smaller, more tangible changes.

“I thought that the session was very helpful for the architects and for the library staff from our library building committee,” said College librarian David Pilachowski, who is co-chair of the Stetson/Sawyer building project along with professor of anthropology and sociology Michael Brown. “The session covered a wide range of topics, all of which were germane to the project. . . [The architects] have told us how much they appreciated and learned from the feedback.”

Main conversation topics during the meeting included the principle uses of the library, “if onlys,” and students’ likes and dislikes of the current space. Additionally, architects talked about what makes any campus space distinctly ‘Williams’ and whether or not the current building could be labeled as such.

In the discussion of library uses, the architects compiled a list of student actions in Sawyer, most far more specific than simply “studying.” Listing actions such as checking e-mail, reading periodicals, printing off the network, visiting the reserve desk and even sleeping, Grauman expressed their desire to make the library a “more interactive place.”

Grauman next asked students what would be a part of a more abstract, ideal library, later focusing on the current lack of a “grand space” within Sawyer. To Grauman, a monumental space, for both current students to use and alumni to visit, seemed “conspicuously absent” in the current Sawyer design.

A few students agreed, stating that most would see few reasons to revisit the current library as alumni. “I don’t feel that Sawyer right now is a building to be proud of,” said one student.

Students also discussed smaller improvements to the library, touching on desires for a more open floor plan, more natural light, and even for an environmentally friendly design. Conversation also dealt with the use of Stetson’s resources, such as the Chapin Rare Book Library. One prominent suggestion was the possibility of turning the current Stetson faculty lounge into some sort of student reading room.

“Students were very articulate about desiring a variety of seating and study spaces, about the need for comfortable, attractive surroundings, and about the long hours that they spend in Sawyer,” Pilachowski said. “On Chapin and Archives, the intention of bringing the operations together to reduce confusion and to highlight these wonderful collections was reinforced by student comments about their present use of those collections.”

Another topic addressed was the current Sawyer entrance, both in terms of its modern façade and it terms of the multiple sets of stairs it requires of a visitor. “You could build a modern building with a lot more sensitivity than this one,” said project manager Lee Clark.

Grauman agreed, stating that he hoped the new design might include “a more approachable scale with something that can be identified as a face or a front door.”

Students also mentioned hopes that the future Stetson could be more like the Morley Science center, in that it could intermingle faculty offices with more student spaces. To be able to better process these suggestions, the architects had recently toured the campus, to see other student spaces such as Schow and the Science Center, and to get a general feel of the architecture of the College campus. The architects have also met with members of the Polshek partnership to discuss overlaps between the plans for the Baxter student center and Stetson and Sawyer.

The architects are currently not only meeting with students and administors, but also discussing the project with various consultants hired by the College. While Grauman stressed that students could present “qualitative input” about their desires for the new space, he explained that the consultants were working to calculate the quantitative statistics about what needs to be built.

As the College is currently working with these consultants and the architects, few details have been worked out in terms of exact building costs or even dates. Eric Beattie, director of facilities planning and construction, said that the College currently “can’t even speculate” about the total cost of the Stetson and Sawyer renovations.

“We just don’t know the whole extent of the project yet,” Beattie said. “[Right now] we’re determining the whole concept of the project, and at that point we’ll be able to pinpoint a realistic budget estimate.”

The construction schedule is only slightly more planned out. Construction will likely begin in summer 2005, approximately one year after ground-breaking for Baxter. Said Pilachowski, “The project is so complex that a phased approach will almost certainly be required. Discussion of the phasing of all of the project elements has [sic] not even begun.”

Pilachowski also emphasized the need to keep library resources available during construction. “One of the factors that will be at the top of our list in this planning is how best to provide library service during the project,” he said. “We simply have to continue to provide library collections and services during the academic year.”

But before plans for construction can begin, the architects must first generate a preliminary design. For this, Pilachowski stressed the need for student input, and mentioned that more meetings may occur for students present over the summer, as well as next fall. Grauman agreed, stating that the architectural team is trying “to keep the process open and let people contribute as much as they can. . . working towards defining the problem”

“Students set a tone for the building,” Pilachowski said. “We work here, you live here.”

To find out more about Bohlin Cywinski Jackson and the Stetson-Sawyer project, those interested should visit www.williams.edu/resources/stetsonsawyer.

Pilachowski also suggested that students with questions or concerns could contact himself or Michael Brown, co-chairs of the Stetson/Sawyer building committee.

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