New Sawyer façade raises sustainability questions

While workers have been laboring feverishly to complete the still on-schedule North and South Academic Buildings in time for their August 2008 opening, plans for the new library have been inching closer to a final design. On Dec. 11, at the last in a series of public forums led by architects of Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, planners revealed preliminary designs of the library’s exterior, updated floor plans and details about the Office of Information Technology (OIT) space within the new building.

Project co-chairman Michael Brown was cautiously optimistic that the design phase was proceeding smoothly. “So far we’re on schedule, but it’s a very aggressive schedule and anything could happen,” he said.

According to Brown, the architects will be sending out the current set of plans for cost estimation, and “if the cost estimates come back significantly over the target budget then there may have to be some rethinking of a lot of things, including the exterior.” Brown said planners were optimistic that the costs would fall within budget, but stressed that there are “many things that are out of [their] control” and that rising or falling construction costs could alter the final design.

The graphic renderings of the new library’s exterior, though temporary, created the most buzz during the December presentation. This design (see page 1) involves a predominantly glass-enclosed structure that is dotted with large panels of green-gray slate – a material similar to that used in the Paresky Center fireplace. A service corridor, running along the north-south axis between Stetson Hall and the new library addition, will be made mostly of brick but will include some slate facing as well.

Dave Pilachowski, College librarian and the project’s other co-chairman, said that the architects aimed to create a modern building that echoed different elements present in Stetson Hall. “I really like their keeping Stetson as the main architectural event of the new complex,” he said. “I believe the deference that they show to [it] is appropriate and is reinforced by the choice of materials and set back location for the west side of the addition.”

One factor that could alter the current design is the sustainability of the mostly glass curtain wall. “I’ve had some discussions with students about whether glass is responsible or not,” Brown said. “On the one hand you save money by bringing in natural light and picking up some energy in the winter through sunlight, but other times of year glass is not as good an insulator as cavity wall.”

The College is currently employing an independent consulting firm to construct and study energy models. Though he added that the current design is well within the standards of Massachusetts energy codes, Brown stressed that “the College just wanted to submit that design to an independent firm to see how it stands up under independent review.” He also noted the need to consider what sort of spaces people want to be in. “We could build a completely energy efficient bunker underground, but no one would want to be in it,” he said. “My guess is that we still have a ways to go to find the right balance.”

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