In defense of Driscoll: A response to the Sasaki Campus Plan

Olivia Winters

Among the changes proposed by the Boston-based design firm Sasaki in its campus “framework plan” are a new dorm complex in Dodd Circle, an expansion of Paresky, and a “Health and Wellness hub” in Berkshire Quad where Driscoll Dining Hall is now. This new Wellness hub proposes to move the services currently offered in Thompson Health Center and Pond House into a renovated Lasell Gymnasium. The Wellness hub would also include a new field house, fitness facility, ice rink, and large dining hall. This new “Super Driscoll” would serve as the conduit to the new fitness facilities at the bottom of the hill by “[traversing] the grade change between the Berkshire Quad and the plaza below.” Sadly, the original Driscoll appears to be a casualty of this progress.

Driscoll Dining Hall is modern in the Frank Lloyd Wright style. It is distinctly attuned to its landscape and thoughtful in its treatment of space. Viewed from a distance, from above or below, Driscoll’s stone and glass exterior reveals two overlapping circles that expand and descend gracefully down hill into an even wider circle below. The entry’s earthy masonry welcomes hungry students like a hobbit hole. The circle beyond the entrance courteously fades into the landscape with floor-to-ceiling glass windows. Upon entering the dining hall, a staircase gaily swings students down to the buffet line. Continuing on, two twin dining rooms are hubs for conversation, replete with large tables and smaller, more intimate booth-style seating areas. Large windows allow reflected light to spark a golden glow against Driscoll’s woodpaneled walls.

Driscoll, the College’s smallest dining hall, is known for its inviting atmosphere and comfortable seating. Jackson Anderson ’24, a Student Kitchen Assistant, feels that “Driscoll has a much cozier vibe than some of the other dining halls” and said he tries to eat as many meals as he can there.

Driscoll blends with its topography, offers a viewing portal towards the mountains by way of its large windows, and promotes an organic, friendly flow of hungry students down its circular stair. Its small size and more intimate seating cause Driscoll to shine as the coziest place to eat at the College. In contrast, the liminal space outside of Whitmans’ is for group project dinners. A booth at Lee Snack Bar is for pretending to do work. Driscoll is for lovers.

And yet the Sasaki Campus Plan appears to raze Driscoll from its relaxed hillside perch, replaced by the proposed behemoth “Super Driscoll,” even though their physical foot- prints do not overlap. Such demolition seems unnecessary and unsustainable. Driscoll, which will soon celebrate its 60th birthday, may be showing some wear, but this should not be a death sentence — it is worth salvaging. Professor of Art History Michael Lewis, an architectural critic for the Wall Street Journal, noted that “It is a tried-and-true strategy of institutions that want to get rid of buildings that they stop caring for them, letting the building turn into an eyesore.” Then, the “people aren’t distressed when they see it swept away.”

With proper renovations, Driscoll could prosper once again, perhaps as something completely different. Its abundance of natural light and proximity to the Spencer Studio Art Building suggest that it could be used as additional studio art space. Alternatively, it could be a charming small performance venue for all the a cappella groups and music or dance ensembles that compete for intimate spaces like Currier Ballroom and Goodrich Stage.

The “Super Driscoll” concept also destroys Prospect House, which is the home of WCFM. The radio club, founded in the 1940s, faces eviction without replacement. Driscoll could easily be reconfigured to embrace WCFM’s thousands of CDs, records, and concert posters with space left over for many other student clubs.

We should not so casually contemplate the razing of a building like Driscoll. In doing so, we fail to appreciate its distinctive architectural value, and we demonstrate a lack of imagination about its many possible uses. Sasaki’s treatment of Driscoll demonstrates a cycle of unnecessary destruction and construction which is environmentally unsustainable, wasteful of the College’s resources, and ignores the campus’s need for comfortable spaces.

Olivia Winters ’25 is from Williamstown, Mass.