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Community Building: Mount Holyoke Celebrates New Campus Center
--Students Shape Blueprint for Perfect Campus Center
--Architectural Studies: Building a New Major

The Sparring Scholar: Looks Can Deceive

Going For The Gold: Barbara Cassani '82 Leads London's Bid for the 2012 Olympics

Say Hello to the Class of 2007

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Mount Holyoke College News and Events College Street Journal Vista

WINTER 2003 • VOLUME 8, NUMBER 1

Mount Holyoke Celebrates New Campus Center

BY CAROL CAMBO

 
 
JIM GIPE

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.

After months--no, 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.

Students Shape Blueprint
for Perfect Campus Center

BY MICKEY RATHBUN

When the 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 samples.

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 original building."

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 said.

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 time."

"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.' "

Administrators recognized 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.

The design-by-community 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.

 
 
JIM GIPE
  The Pittsburgh Collective, led by assistant professor of music David Sanford, played to a packed house to celebrate Blanchard's reopening.

"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."

Architectural Studies:
Building A New Major

BY BONITA SENNOTT

A 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.

"Architecture 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 best."

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 design.

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 natural qualities."

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."

 

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