Guest Column - July 2014
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Design Corner

Object Lesson
Ensuring Campus Projects Fit Their Context

By David Rose

The Pete Hanna Center could not look more different. Samford's Homewood, Ala., campus boasts a uniform Georgian style of architecture based on Colonial Williamsburg, and we were told that our design of a new sports and special events center could not stray far, if at all, from its principles.

This involved some unique challenges. As much as performing arts centers, arenas want to be contemporary—virtually every other college in America has added glass curtainwall to its old arena in order to bring in much-needed daylight—and there's nothing contemporary about any Colonial-era architectural style. Its classical adherence to proportion, solid materiality and symmetry (Georgian houses feature brick and stone, columns, sloped roofs with dormers and massive chimneys on both sides of the roof) could easily make a 5,000-seat arena look like a 15,000-seat venue from the outside. Several architecture firms had tried before we were brought on board, having strayed too far from Georgian architecture to please the administration and introduced a budget as massive as a pair of chimneys.

With everything from the school's front gate to the back garage in Georgian style, we had plenty of examples on campus to draw from. We hid some of the building's mass by burying one end into a hill, and wrapped the building perimeter in smaller volumes that contain the 12,000-square-foot fitness center, locker rooms, team meeting rooms, a student-athlete academic center, offices for coaches and administrators, and a chapel. But on the whole, we celebrated its mass, and sculpted it in the Georgian language, including a hipped roof with dormers, facades with temple-like repetitive columns, limestone surrounds around every window and, yes, dual chimneys rendered (like the rest of the building) in brick. At the same time, we made a few materials choices to keep within our guaranteed fixed price, such as using high-relief architectural-grade asphalt shingles instead of slate (with the bulk of the roof 75 feet above grade, the difference isn't immediately noticeable).

Surprise Party

Both buildings stand out, but for different reasons. Approaching Endicott's arts center from either direction, its contemporary look registers as a surprise—something distinct from the academic buildings to the west and the assortment of residences that surround it. And the sheer size of the elements that make up Samford's arena can awe viewers, despite being perfectly in scale with other similarly detailed but smaller structures nearby.

My experience designing these two buildings is what cautions me never to judge architecture on the basis of one photo. It's also why I strongly recommend that campus administrators walk their campus, as I will. Take stock of your entire inventory of older buildings before contemplating your new one.

Architect David Rose is director of architecture with Stanmar Inc., a Wayland, Mass.-based design-build firm. Photos by Daniel Walsh, courtesy of Stanmar Inc. For more information, visit