Central to much of our work are social hubs – spaces that function as vibrant, shared public realms. A light filled space or center atrium connects all main circulation spaces, such as conference rooms, lounges, lunch areas, study areas or classrooms. A social hub is often a building block for creating a cultural and academic heart. Social hubs run throughout our work – from our past to our present. Here we compare three social hubs we’ve designed for our on the boards undergraduate science buildings at Skidmore College, Lafayette College and Amherst College.
The Amherst College New Science Center defines a community for the sciences and serves as a destination for the entire campus. The Science Center is a 260,000 SF building for the science faculty that includes research and teaching spaces for biology, chemistry, physics, neuroscience, psychology, computer science, and math. The goal of the project has been to not only collocate the science disciplines, but to also bring together the students and faculty. To foster a communal space at the scale for the full campus community and a collaborative environment for the sciences, our team decided the social hub needed to be the heart of the building. This emerged as the organizing concept for the project.
The design of the building is formed around the distinguishing social hub – the Commons. In order for the Commons to serve as a successful social hub at the campus scale, the landscape design has been strategically integrated into the project.
The Science Center faces a large greenway, whose winding pathways connect various parts of campus, bringing the students and faculty to the main entrance of the building. The pathways not only lead into the main Living Room of the Commons, they also connect to the north and south entries. Linking campus pathways to the other entry points of the building allows the Commons to become a connector that runs through the building, creating a large continuous collaboration space for the science community. The site concept works cohesively with the building concept, where the science blocks open onto the Commons, unified by the roof canopy overhead. As the different science programs open toward the Commons, the Commons itself opens onto the campus.
There are a number of features embedded in the Commons that emphasize its role as the social hub of the building. The Commons has been articulated as a transparent volume, showcasing the science community to the rest of campus. The science programs that open onto the Commons along its length have a continuous relationship to the social hub, displaying their different modes of research while increasing collaboration amongst various departments. To further foster collaboration, the main communicating stair is been located at the heart of the Commons, linking the Living Room to the floating walkways above. This promotes an interconnection between teaching and research as well as an increased interaction among various departments. The Commons at the Amherst College Science Center was designed to not only serve as the destination for the entire campus, but to maximize collaboration amongst a myriad of sciences housed in one building.
The Lafayette College Integrated Science Center (ISC), located along the main campus quad, will accommodate a complex program and create a relationship between the surrounding buildings, establishing a Lafayette community for the student body.
The building design is organized by two main axes with social spaces running alongside. The social hubs interconnect and create relationships between program elements and vary in scale according to the needs of the occupants. The main social space is where the two main axes intersects and is defined by a four story atrium.
The first two floors of the atrium has a big campus presence, making it more transparent and open to the main campus. The biggest social zones are located on these two floors and include a cafe, study areas and students spaces, which allows more transparency through the building. The other half of the atrium reduces opening area and creates smaller, intimate student areas without losing the visual relationship with the campus and the first two floors of the atrium. These two spatial conditions are connected by a continuous ribbon of space that runs through the floors, connecting each floor by a stair. This strategy intends to bring a sense of community and to define the heart of the project.
At Skidmore College, the social hub at the Center for Integrated Science (CSI) was envisioned as a series of connected spaces throughout the project. While the main student entry on the south façade is adjacent to a large atrium space, the idea of the atrium carries throughout the building. This creates a three-story event connecting the north and south entries. The result is less of a traditional social hub and more of a social spine, populated with a variety of different student spaces. Whether students are using this space for circulation or using of the student spaces, there will always be opportunities for student interaction and connectivity.
To reinforce the idea of the social spine, the interior architecture uses a common material and detail language throughout the space. The architecture brings the students into the space at the north and south entries and then highlights areas for interaction and private study as students pass through. Within the three-story social spine, there are several accent walls designed as objects within the greater volume of the atrium. These accent walls highlight areas for student interaction and are populated with a variety of furniture options.