The second in a three-part series looking at façade strategies, focused primarily on more opaque assemblies (façade as wall), in three academic science projects. You can read the first post Subtracting & Cutting on a Singular Solid here.
This installment looks at another academic building that used brick to support a very different design intent. Envisioned as a vertically connected walk-up science community, Lafayette College’s new science center uses a steeply sloping site to conceal the large program within the historic brick fabric of the existing courtyard.
Lafayette College, Rockwell Integrated Sciences Center
DESIGN INTENT Planar/Thin
The façade strategy for the Rockwell Integrated Sciences Center at Lafayette College focused on the planar, trying to be as thin as possible in a masonry medium that is not traditionally associated with thinness.
Sited on Lafayette College’s main quad, the new science center was expected to be a red brick building, fitting into the existing campus context. At over 100,000 GSF, it was going to be the largest academic building on campus, but still needed a “seat at the table” on the red brick quad. As a result, part of the building peeks onto the quad, with the mass of the building hidden from view.
THE MISSING TOOTH –The new science center completes a previously unfinished quad by infilling an existing “missing tooth” site.
As you view the façade from the quad, you notice a line that runs through the entire project. This line was critical to the design intent, fitting the building within the context of its historical neighbors.
HIDDEN MASS – The building entry at the quad is at level 3 with the lobby and landscape below the quad.
As we tried to alleviate the bulk of the brick façade, we treated it like a piece of paper, cutting it strategically to alleviate the visual weight by making it appear thinner. We used that line as a cantilever for the main entry from the campus quad.
FIRST MOVE – Strategically “cutting” the brick façade to set up an attitude of thinness.
Thinness became an operative part of the façade design. We thought of the façade as paper, playing with folds and cuts to see how we could mitigate the heaviness of the brick materials. We wanted to express the masonry façade as thinly as possible, so we made it a single brick wide. In order to accomplish this, we pushed in the cavity as far as it could go, so it feels heavy at the bottom and gets thinner as it moves up the building.
THINNING THE MASONRY FACADE
The corners were deliberately “flimsy” when it comes to masonry. In a typical bay, there is a single soldier course at each level. By pushing the sill in, we accentuated the pier itself, thereby dematerializing the façade, making something that should feel heavy read as light.
DEMATERIALIZING THE FAÇADE – Accentuating the pier to make the façade appear light.
Even the choice of Endicott brick, which infuses iron ore within the clay itself, was part of the illusion. This beautiful brick changes color throughout the day. In some areas of the façade, the design plays with the sculpture of the bricks—more folding, stretching.
MATERIAL CHOICE ADDS TO THE ILLUSION
Brick buildings in general can often feel very closed in and insular, so it is critical to consider how to accommodate openings in the façade. How do we create a building that feels more glazed than it actually is? An important aspect of the design intent was for occupants to have a view to the outside, no matter where they were in the building. With irregular spacing and window sizing, the façade design supports not only views for the labs but also from within student breakout spaces.
EMPHASIZING VIEWS TO THE OUTSIDE FOR ALL OCCUPANTS
Another key goal was ensuring the building had a contemporary design aesthetic, while still fitting in with the more traditional language of the existing buildings. To accomplish this, we looked to classical buildings, which have a lot of symmetry in window placement. We reinforced this idea by centering the windows to each other vertically. This design choice enabled us to stretch the façade where we needed to.
The back of the science center has an entirely different façade. As the building cascades down the hill, it has a large stretch of façade over its five stories. The challenge here was creating a visually interesting façade on a tight budget, while simultaneously minimizing its massiveness. In order to solve this design dilemma, we looked to pre-cast concrete, and we were fortunate enough to have a fabrication team nearby who collaborated with us to accomplish this feat.
Since concrete is a liquid medium, we were excited about the potential to use pattern and glazing in different ways to help break up the mass of the rear façade. A liquid medium allows for a great deal of flexibility, and we worked with the concrete fabricator to create a series of concrete panels. Because they wanted to make as few molds as possible, we had to deal with a great deal of repetition on the façade. We examined various window patterns, as well as concrete colors and textures to help break up the repetition.
EARLY STUDIES – Studies looking at repeating patterns, depth and material constraints.
We created a series of studies to examine the shadow effects of the different concrete molds in various lighting conditions, playing with both soft and hard edge solutions. We investigated different concrete stains to manipulate the color, but in direct sunlight there was not any strong variation in color that would accomplish our goals. We then tried microtextures, using a serrated texture in the mold to create a shadow effect. It was fun to play with the shadows and incredible how different the textured concrete looks in various light conditions.
EARLY STUDIES – Analyzing the shadow effects of different concrete molds.
In the next installment of this series, we will look at a new campus building that strives to be simultaneously transparent and opaque.