BUILD ANOTHER LEHMAN

The architects of the Stetson-Sawyer renovation are considering an unexpected and wonderful solution to the problem of expanding the college’s library complex, namely the removal and replacement of Sawyer Library with a building behind Stetson Hall. I believe this scheme, if completed, will be the best thing to happen to the Williams campus in 80 years.

The proposal seems to be highly favored by both the architects and the Stetson-Sawyer committee; it would remove a building that is almost unanimously regarded as an eyesore and restore an expanded Stetson Hall to its original function as the college library. In doing so, Williams will once again have a library building it can be proud of.

Another benefit of the so-called ‘plan B’ is the creation of a new open space leading up to the west façade of Stetson. This space will be defined by several buildings that will house the faculty offices currently in the back of Stetson, although it is still uncertain what form these buildings will take.

The architects are undoubtedly weighing a number of options for the placement and layout of these buildings and I would like to share my thoughts on this issue. From the preliminary conceptual plans, the architects appear to be considering two office buildings, one long one on the south side of the current Sawyer and another to the north, extending back towards Mission.

This is where I see the greatest potential, for here we have an opportunity to create a second great quadrangle in addition to the one that will frame the view of Stetson. It is critical that the architects enclose this space rather than fill it.

One of the most important components of this potential quadrangle has so far not appeared in the preliminary plans. This is the construction of a twin of Lehman Hall (which I will refer to as Lehman II). It should be noted that Lehman II was an important part of Ralph Adams Cram’s vision of the campus when he was designing buildings for Williams in the 1910s and ’20s. The plan was to place this identical building directly to the east of the existing Lehman and separate the two buildings with the formal staircase which has already been constructed.

In addition to the intent of the architect, whose work defines so much of the Williams campus, the completion of the Lehman ensemble will follow a strong precedent of similar pairs of buildings at Williams: East and Fayerweather, Currier and Fitch and Williams and Sage. Thus, the new building will immediately feel right at home here.

There are several important benefits to the campus in completing Lehman II. Coupled with the transplanting of Fernald, Lehman II will help create the new quadrangle out of what is now a collection of secondary pathways and ‘in-between’ spaces. As it is now, Lehman tends to feel like an isolated island, forgotten on the ‘other side’ of the center of activity.

Yet it has the potential to be part of a greater architectural group with its own ‘front yard.’ Even with Lehman II housing faculty offices rather than student dorm rooms, the presence of the new building will make Lehman feel more central.

More importantly, as it stands now, the order of the campus disintegrates right at the point where Lehman II would stand. The presence of so many transplanted houses arranged between Sawyer and Dodd creates a very strange built environment – both Fernald and Lehman seem lost and out of place; the space almost dissolves as it spills out towards Dodd.

Compare this to the order and comfort of the Frosh quad. Moving Fernald and adding Lehman II will immediately create a well defined quadrangle, as well as a clear boundary between the orderly brick Georgian complex and the more casually arranged wood frame houses. Both buildings would stand more comfortably and confidently.

Finally, Lehman II will complete the splendid Georgian panorama visible from Mission Park: Mears, Williams, Chapin, Lehman, Lehman II and Stetson. This is already one of the most coherent and impressive views of the campus but tends to fall apart a just where Lehman II ought to be.

This is a building which has been waiting to happen for 70 years and will accomplish an astonishing amount for its size. I hope the College and architects will make an effort to include this keystone in their plans.

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