VOLUME 8, NUMBER 1
Holyoke Celebrates New Campus Center
Truth is revealed
in fleeting moments--like a trumpeter holding a single note, clear
and true, its tone and timbre unmarred by echo or sonic splash.
"The room, that note, it was exquisite," said John Laprade, director
of student programs at Mount Holyoke. "That was the moment I knew
we'd gotten it right." That moment came when Laprade was listening
to a packed-house big-band concert by the Pittsburgh Collective,
part of a series of events celebrating the Blanchard Campus Center's
opening in early September.
years--of worrying about every inch of the center, especially
its 5,000-foot glass-walled Great Room ("You just don't build
glass theaters!" Laprade had been heard to lament), that moment
held this truth:
the Great Room was as versatile as everyone had hoped. It could
be transformed from booming dance club one night to acoustically
perfect music hall the next.
There were other
moments of truth during opening week. The new space wowed students
from the Five Colleges arriving by bus for Blanchard's first dance
party. The day of the center's opening celebration, the crowd
was so big, so hungry, the staff of the new grill was barely able
to keep up with the demand. These were signs that the campus center
was not only part of the fabric of the community, it had begun
to weave its own design, a sum greater than its imagined, laboriously
planned, and meticulously executed parts. In the words of Winston
Churchill, "We shape our buildings: thereafter they shape us."
Before the clocks were hung and the last crevices chinked, Blanchard
had begun to shape her community.
for Perfect Campus Center
architectural firm Miller Dyer Spears arrived on campus
three years ago to plan the renovation of Blanchard
Campus Center, one of the architects' top priorities
was to hear from students. "The look and feel of a
student center is influenced the most by student input,"
said architect Will Spears. "We wanted to get a sense
[of] what the College is about, what the student center
wanted to be."
To get as much student feedback as possible, the architects
held two open forums at Blanchard attended by nearly
200 students, distributed surveys in residence halls
to solicit input, and created a Web site to invite
further comments. Later in the process, students were
even asked to weigh in on furniture and upholstery
According to Spears, a consensus emerged from a range
of student voices. Students wanted a "warm, cozy environment,
a communal living room," he said. "They did not want
anything 'too far out there,' but something that would
be in keeping with the spirit of the campus and the
Ultimately, the plan was driven by the students' desire
for a place where they could loosen up and be social.
"Students wanted to see and be seen, so we wanted
to make the building as open as possible," Spears
Judging from the bustling scene at Blanchard this
fall, Miller Dyer Spears listened well.
On a chilly September
morning, you can see from the center's soaring window wisps of
fog still clinging to Lower Lake. Ellie Bertram '04 and Christiane
Benzing '04 sip steaming cups of tea and coffee. Huddled around
a stout table in cushy upholstered chairs, they flip through notebooks
and nibble on pastry. The friends live on opposite ends of the
campus, and this is their new ritual. "We always meet here between
morning classes," explained Bertram. "I hang out here all the
"When I first saw
the plans I couldn't envision how it would look," said Benzing.
"Now that it's finished I can't believe how warm and cozy it is.
There's always something going on. It's cool to finally have a
place to just 'be.' "
that the campus needed a place for members of the community to
"just be." Even more, it needed a social hub, a comfortable home
for key student organizations, versatile function spaces, and
a place where people could eat beyond regular dining hall hours.
The College decided that Blanchard, the former athletic building
first opened in 1900, was to be gutted and expanded. Just how
the new building would function--well, that was a question for
the whole community to ponder. The "cool" factor had to be addressed
as well: what kinds of spaces would make people stop in not only
to grab their mail, but to hang out, to make a date to see a movie
or concert, to study and dine at Blanchard?
To make sure the
new center would be an extension of the community, everyone at
MHC was invited to play a role in its creation. Laprade's mantra
at every turn was "How will this best serve students?" This collective
process transformed Blanchard. What had always been a dark building
is now flooded with natural light thanks to a 60-foot-long atrium
skylight. A once-odd traffic flow has been replaced by a "Main
Street" level open to the floors
above and below via a grand staircase, giving the building an
organic, open pattern. The building truly breathes.
More important, it
works. Blanchard's function marks its true success. People addicted
to Chef Jeff's signature cookies and cups of frothy latte mob
the chic Uncommon Grounds coffee bar on the main level. Students
use laptops in Blanchard's wireless Internet zones and pop into
the bookstore for supplies. The aerie of offices on the third
floor buzzes with voices, telephones, and computers as members
of the Outing Club, Mount Holyoke News, the yearbook, student
government, and other student groups take care of business. Downstairs,
delicious aromas from the new Blanchard Café effectively
advertise what's for lunch.
method resulted in a triumph of beauty and function, but it presented
challenges for the building team. While the builders and architects
listened to and incorporated community feedback and worked to
meet criteria for "green" construction, they were taming a problematic
building site, said John Bryant, director of facilities management.
Pittsburgh Collective, led by assistant professor of music
David Sanford, played to a packed house to celebrate Blanchard's
"The slope of the
site was the trickiest part," Bryant said. In order to accommodate
a new foundation, ADA-approved sidewalks, and a few acres of lawn,
planners had to sculpt a quarter mile of new sidewalks and hide
a relocated access road in order to preserve the lake views. In
his nearly four years as director of facilities management, Bryant
has overseen one of the most productive periods of building in
campus history. Despite the challenges, he said Blanchard has
been his favorite project. "The fact that everyone was so invested
in the outcome made it more difficult than other projects, but
ultimately more rewarding," he said.
That investment has
paid off. Blanchard is hopping. "It is so busy," confirmed Lillan
Schatvet '04 from her post behind the sleek new information desk.
"It has a bigger, busier feel, a bit like a university setting,"
she added. She guides people through the event-packed schedule:
live music, dance parties, lectures, readings, movies, and art
shows in the new student gallery. Many people come just for the
atmosphere, too, she said. For the hip tunes pumping through the
sound system, for the banquettes and booths swaddled in velvety
rusts and yellows, for the blend of old and new--copper, aluminum,
and bright wood complement bricks and bead-board darkened by the
patina of history.
"The stone and brick
and mortar speak a language, which vibrates through my very soul,"
Mount Holyoke's founder Mary Lyon wrote when the cornerstone of
the College was laid on October 3, 1836. "She knew that the seminary
of her dreams needed physical presence if it were to have permanence,"
said President Joanne V. Creighton at Blanchard's opening. "I
can't help but think that Mary would be pleased with the new center,
because one of the legacies that we owe her is the centeredness
of the institution that comes not only from sense of place, but
a sense of purpose as well."
Building A New Major
building is more than a structure. Whether a simple thatch-roofed
cottage or a soaring steel-and-glass skyscraper, a building
is also a complex locus where the social, political, spiritual,
and economic aspects of human lives converge. To design
buildings well--to understand and articulate how they function--takes
something more than technical training. Mount Holyoke's
new major in architectural studies gives students that "something
more"; it provides the liberal arts background essential
to their success, whether as practicing architects, critics,
historians, or educators.
is a very technical field, but here at Mount Holyoke we
can create an infusion of both the liberal arts and the
technical," said Binu Tulachan '04, who intends to study
architecture at the graduate level. "I think that's the
Administered by the art department, the architectural studies
major draws on several of Mount Holyoke's strengths--its
interdisciplinary curriculum, its top-notch programs in
the arts and sciences, and its commitment to environmental
awareness and sustainability.
With the help of their advisers, architectural studies majors
map out an individual plan that includes courses in studio
art, architectural design, and art history. They take studio
and art history courses on campus and, through the Five
College Consortium, can fulfill architectural design requirements
at other local colleges.
What will this interdisciplinary approach to the study of
architecture give students? Options, said art history professor
Michael Davis, the program's coordinator. "Our intention
was to design a 'spine' of required courses, but to keep
it fluid as to what students choose to attach to that spine."
That fluidity is working well for Tulachan. This semester
she is enrolled in an advanced course at Hampshire College
taught by Mary Yun, a Princeton-educated senior associate
with the internationally renowned firm Michael Graves and
Associates. In Yun's course, Tulachan is delving into dormitory
Mary-Elizabeth Murphy '04 (left), who plans to do graduate
work in urban and architectural history, is no stranger
to the field--her grandfather was an architect, as are an
uncle and a cousin. But it wasn't until she took Art 100
her first year at Mount Holyoke that she discovered how
much she truly loved architecture. "Toward the end of the
course we studied Frank Lloyd Wright," she said, "and it
was that day that I realized my passion for architecture."
Thanks to a grant from the history department, Murphy spent
much of the past summer in Washington, D.C., doing archival
research on Hilyard Robinson, an African American architect
who designed Langston Terrace Dwellings, the city's first
public housing complex.
Teodora (Tedi) Koleva '04 is currently working on an independent
study that combines her dual interests in dance and architectural
design. "What I'm doing is designing an architectural space
that is perceived as art," she said. "What interests me
is designing multiuse performance spaces, and using a site's
Tulachan, Koleva, and Murphy are just three of a dozen MHC
students who had been studying architecture through course
work and seminars, thanks to an endowed fund established
by Joan Goldstein Spiro '54. Because interest in the field
had increased so dramatically in the last few years, the
College took note and added the architectural studies major
to its liberal arts curriculum. "I see buildings as gigantic
measuring sticks of history," Murphy said. "Every society
for the pragmatic reason of shelter has erected buildings,
and it's often through these structures that we learn about
[a society's] social, political, and intellectual aspirations."