Facilities (Campus Space)

Not Just a Pretty Face

an updated facility facade

PHOTOS © MATT WARGO

Expressing institutional identity, energy efficiency, design acumen and campus revitalization all matter. No doubt about it. And new and renovated building exteriors are opportunities to help express and achieve those things, creating new options for colleges and universities.

It’s a dynamic being expressed in disparate projects and locales. Take for example Thomas Jefferson University’s recently renovated Jefferson Accelerator Zone (JAZ), a medical innovation facility in Center City, Philadelphia. For this recent project, architect Cecil Baker + Partners worked closely with campus officials to turn a nondescript two-story row house owned by the university into an emblematic new structure.

The exterior communicates ideas about local history and the university, with the focal point a provocative façade in the shape of a “kite-like projection.” It is a reference to the past, present and future — that is, the kite of Benjamin Franklin as well as the bold, innovative spirit of the new facility, the architect points out. Technically speaking, it’s a “custom-designed structurally glazed façade curtain wall system with tube steel structural support.”

The approach was multipronged, with the new look dramatically changing the brick exterior of the pre-existing building and boosting its energy efficiency with the new façade and roof systems. Architect Chris Blakelock explains, “We used insulated glazing in place of the uninsulated glazing and uninsulated masonry walls that were previously on the building. We also added insulation to the roof.” The architect describes another feature enabled by the glass expanse: an attractive secondfloor conference room with campus and streetscape views.

Jefferson Accelerator Zone new facade

PHOTOS © MATT WARGO

The building is now a standout for exteriors on the campus. As Blakelock continues, “The buildings in the heart of the campus are typically masonry buildings, some of them old and historic. The materials we used for JAZ — glass and steel — distinguish it from the bulk of the campus buildings.”

Envisioning the exterior and the revitalized structure it surrounds as a pragmatic opportunity helps achieve several goals, Blakelock says, including “updating the image” of a historic campus, “providing an identifiable presence on the block” and providing “a gathering space unlike any other on campus.”

Further, façades and overall building envelopes can work in concert with other exterior elements, sending a ripple effect to their surroundings. In the case of JAZ, there is a beacon effect along the city block at night as light emanates through the glass curtain wall. This provides “the opportunity for after-hours use,” Blakelock points out. “Having more people and light on the street after dark adds to the vitality of the neighborhood.” The broader effect of the entire design, he adds: a benefit to “the real estate of the whole block and larger neighborhood.”

Utilitarian Beauty

Another project, seen above, used an energy-efficient, distinctive building envelope with other elements to turn a routine type of campus building, a chiller plant, into a provocative design statement on the main campus of The Ohio State University in Columbus. There were a couple of important things at play with the exterior.

campus facility facade

PHOTO © BRAD FEINKNOPF

First, there’s the plant’s “high-performance envelope, including translucent fritted double glazing and insulation,” explains its architect, Jane Weinzapfel of Leers Weinzapfel Associates, who points out that in addition there is an “upper cantilevered perforated metal screening of rooftop equipment.” The screening “shades the glazed building below from sun on most of the south, west and east exposures; this protects the lower glazed volume effectively from summer heat gain, even without requiring a low-e coating.”

One of the other goals, she says, was “to screen the equipment within the building, while making an attractive open gesture suitable to an actively used student area.” The glazing, Weinzapfel points out, “gently glows at night with minimal interior lighting, creating a sense of safety and liveliness surrounding an otherwise low-occupancy building.”

Secondly, there’s the fact that the chiller plant is sited at a strategic, high-profile location on the campus, raising another key point about the right exterior. As Weinzapfel explains, “Often in the past, utility buildings and chiller plants were located at the back edge and sometimes hidden parts of campuses. As campuses have matured and densified, and as town development has crept to campus borders, existing plant sites have become more prominent and sensitive. As additional utility capacity needs increase dramatically with campus growth, the best new sites also are often located in sensitive prominent locations. Recognition of these needs is indeed gathering force and attention.”

The effect is more than the sum of its parts, with Weinzapfel putting it this way: “Façade materials and lighting can give a sense of dynamism and activity or a sense of continuity, repose and contemplation. The key ways that campuses can use exterior elements and façades to support student life is by choice of materials, color, scale of elements and spaces, connections between buildings and landscape, and appropriate lighting.” She adds that “exterior elements, including canopies, portals, porches, lighting, seating steps or benches can support social comfort, and a sense of protection and safety.”

Updated campus facade

PHOTO © BEN GANCSOS

Sealing the Envelope

At the State University of New York, Old Westbury, a major renovation involving exterior metal panels, a glass curtain wall and other elements came together to bring something new to a marquee building: the Campus Center, seen on previous page.

The exterior marshaled “state-of-the-art insulated glass throughout the entire project,” says architect Marc Spector of Spector Group, with the glass, which is double glazed, “replacing an antiquated single-glazed system.” Additionally, the metal panels are part of “a highly insulated sandwich system that provides excellent insulation value,” he continues, with “the two new systems, glass and metal, working in conjunction provide much tighter envelope than the previous system, thereby creating a much more energy-efficient envelope.”

The approach brings up pragmatic communicative aspects as well. As Spector says, “The building is now what it was designed to be: the gateway to the school,” with facets of the design carrying that idea further, mainly via glass bridges that metaphorically reach out to building users while enabling efficient circulation for pedestrians.

As Spector sees it, the Campus Center “exemplifies the trend toward creating energy-efficient envelopes that at the same time are visually exciting. The front façade is a case in point. The addition of a stone façade element, curved mechanical screen and the glass-enclosed bridges create an exciting visual effect that greets the visitors upon arrival. The glass bridges are inviting entry pieces that catch the viewer’s eye both day and night.”

All told, those recent campus projects are among those with exterior designs and materials that are creating new options for higher education institutions, their campuses and surroundings — things that matter. No doubt about it.

This article originally appeared in the June 2016 issue of College Planning & Management.

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