Placing Contrast in Context

College and university master plans tend toward one of the two ends of the planning continuum: either they are very specific in identifying building sites, schedules for implementation, and perhaps, even conceptual designs for each program; or they provide a broad-brush overview of the current layout and future direction of the campus with, at most, identification of future opportunities for key sites. Building out a broad-brush master plan is particularly challenging, requiring a strategy that balances unifying principles with the advancement of current goals.
Separate Identities, Connected
The academic campus is, by its nature, a collection of buildings with separate identities that are connected by a common theme and history. As such, each campus has a unique defining character, which is typically conveyed through a compelling building, outdoor space, or architectural detail. Think of the University of Virginia’s main quadrangle or Notre Dame’s golden dome; both iconic campus features.

Ideally, each new building should be designed so as to express its particular moment on the campus timeline, while establishing a strong connection with the campus’ common theme and history. New buildings also must be physically integrated into the campus, whether these connections are driven by considerations of weather — as often is the case in the northeastern United States — a relationship with one or more existing programs, and/or service by the campus central plant.

Clearly, each new building also plays important roles in meeting individual programmatic requirements; market demands; faculty, student and staff needs; and donor goals — all within the context of the campus master plan. Ultimately, the siting and design of each new building must achieve the optimum balance between these many, and often competing, demands.

A new three-story, 38,000-sq.-ft. building to house the new pharmacy program at St. John Fisher College, Rochester, NY, illustrates the strategy of “placing contrast in context.” is a case in point. The college is initiating a new graduate program, The Wegmans School of Pharmacy. Through careful site planning and a unique design aesthetic, a new facility will significantly redefine the heart of the campus.
Anticipating Market Demands
An independent Catholic liberal arts institution, St. John Fisher College enrolls approximately 3,400 undergraduate and graduate students. Over the last six years, Fisher has invested more than $75M in new construction and renovations to existing academic, residential, and athletic facilities. Most recently, the leaders of St. John Fisher College recognized an opportunity to expand the college’s graduate programs, based on a projected increase in the demand for pharmacists nationwide, through the initiation of a new pharmacy program. Representatives discussed the college’s vision with Robert B. Wegman, chairman of the Board of Wegmans Food Markets, the Rochester-based supermarket, whose in-store pharmacies are among its prominent service features. Mr. Wegman responded with a generous personal gift to establish The Wegmans School of Pharmacy.

The college’s master plan provides a broad-brush overview of the current layout and future direction of the campus. Thus the design team, which included Program Consultants, Perkins & Will, examined five different site plan alternatives to ensure that the building would help to establish a strong identity for the new program while fitting into the historical context of the campus. Each alternative connected to the existing Skalny Hall in a different way, providing associated advantages and disadvantages. Some provided greater flexibility in the design of the landscape architecture while, at the same time, obscuring Skalny Hall’s identity and displacing a substantial number of parking spaces. Others presented a very efficient plan but were so closely blended with the existing so as to minimize the building’s sense of identity. The selected site advances the campus master plan in several important ways.

Classic collegiate land features. The site anchors a bend in a campus road that the college had redefined from a thoroughfare to a classic collegiate entrance road terminating at Kearney Hall, the main administration building. The site allows for the creation of Fisher’s first campus quadrangle — the quintessential collegiate open space — framed by five prominent buildings, including the new Wegmans School.

Shared program spaces. The site allowed designers to create a physical link — a new two-story atrium — that facilitates sharing of program spaces and library resources with Skalney Hall, the existing biology and physics building. The atrium creates a lively interior student commons space and leads directly to the new quadrangle. The Wegmans School itself comprises classrooms and group meeting spaces on the first floor; an administrative suite, faculty offices, and laboratory space on the second floor; and an administrative suite, faculty offices, laboratory space, and a training pharmacy modeled after the Wegmans Markets pharmacy on the third floor. Faculty offices are incorporated into a curve on the south side of the building that effectively leads the viewer’s eyes to the new campus quad.

An appropriate design statement. Skalney Hall and Kearney Hall represent two vastly different architectural statements, which created challenges in determining an appropriate design statement for the new school. Kearney Hall, which is set upon a hill above the new quadrangle, is the principal character-defining building on campus. Built in the 1920s, its design is an unusual expression of the Collegiate Gothic architecture style, featuring a steeple, a Gothic arched arcade, and abstracted Gothic detailing. In contrast, Skalney Hall, which dates to the late 1950s, has a stark, modernist aesthetic. However, the college’s master plan anticipates that new buildings will incorporate a traditional architectural vocabulary.

The design solution for the Wegmans School is a building that reflects a modernist design scheme, yet effectively incorporates a traditional architectural vocabulary. Therefore, designers incorporated Gothic-style arches into the character-defining western façade of the building. Moreover, the designers used a palette of materials that is consistent with those used in Skalney and Kearney Halls, as well as the overall campus master plan. The exterior of the building combines gray tonal brick laid up in a random pattern and buff-colored architectural precast concrete.

Independent mechanical system. Early in the design phase, the A/E team considered integration of the mechanical system with that of Skalney Hall. While the two buildings are physically linked via the atrium, it was decided that the system for the new building should be a standalone system based on the building’s size. In fact, Skalney Hall is already connected to two other adjacent buildings, and each of these also has a standalone mechanical system.

The new building, which met a construction budget of $7.1M, was completed in August of 2006. Through effective site planning and design, the new home of the Wegmans School of Pharmacy has effectively re-shaped the heart of its campus, placing contrast in the appropriate context.
James B. Durfee, AIA, is vice president and design principal of Bergmann Associates, P.C., Rochester, NY. He can be reached at 585/232-5135 or [email protected]