Can a new building spark connections across campus?
At Mack Hall, home of Norwich University’s College of Professional Schools and cybersecurity program, a steep hill becomes an asset, providing a nesting site for a new, multi-purpose auditorium while improving accessibility on campus through a network of connections at four grade levels.
The need for more teaching and office space was the impetus for this four-story, 51,000 square foot building on the campus of the nation’s oldest private military college. As the new home for the College of Professional Schools, as well as the university’s cybersecurity program, Mack Hall expands the university’s general-use classroom portfolio while introducing specialty learning spaces.
The new building sits next to Schneider Hall and has a similarly narrow width to take advantage of passive heating and cooling as well as daylighting opportunities. This also creates a shared courtyard.
Taking advantage of its steep site to improve accessibility on campus, Mack Hall acts as both circuit and conduit, with entrances at each of its four floor levels that connect people to the various parts of the building and surrounding campus. At the bottom level, the building ties into the lower, northerly residential campus. At the first floor, it opens onto a lower quad, flanked by Ainsworth and Schneider Halls. At the second floor, where the main lobby and auditorium are, the building spills out onto a plaza shared with the entry to Schneider Hall. At the third floor, a new bridge reaches across to the Upper Parade, the main quad on campus.
This network of accessible, vertical campus circulation through the building increases foot traffic and provides accessible pathways to and through the building and the campus beyond — and a convenient route during inclement weather for everyone.
"Nothing is as dangerous in architecture as dealing with separated problems. If we split life into separated problems, we split the possibilities to make good buildings." -- Alvar Aalto
Among the learning spaces the university wanted but lacked the budget for was a 100-seat raked floor classroom. Additionally, the project required the demolition of a 1950's-era, 380-seat auditorium in Webb Hall that was rife with code, deferred maintenance, and functional challenges. This was the largest assembly space on campus, used for myriad functions, and it needed to be replaced. It was also isolated and did not offer any pre/post-function event area.
A new, 400-seat auditorium at Mack Hall solves both problems. The design collapses the 100-seat raked floor classroom into the auditorium functionally, providing more robust IT and seating accommodations at these rows and separating them from the balance of the auditorium with a cross-aisle.
Outside the theater, a public lobby "wrapper" accommodates a set of lounge, breakout, and huddle spaces for general use, along with windows overlooking the auditorium — a vicarious viewing opportunity (or expanded seating) that makes this feature space a focus of campus as passersby pause for a peek at what’s happening below.
The building’s exterior material palette includes the red brick and Barre granite commonly used on campus, but they are installed and patterned in ways that are new to the university. Fields of pulled brick add texture along the base of the building and stepped brick at the entrances and cornice add visual weight. The granite appears grounded on one elevation but turn the corner as the grade drops off and you see it's actually hung off the building – an inversion of the typical base-to-field relationship found on campus.
The approach serves two purposes: first, it’s practical; the building is huge, it needs texture to break up the facades. Second, it keeps the design conversation moving forward, explains designer Marc Perras. “Using the same materials found in the context, but in a different form is not an uncommon design approach. It's a way of paying homage to the past, while looking to the future. My guess is this is the exact same conversation architects were having with clients 100 years ago and will have 100 years from now.”
“In my opinion, the best architectural firms are those that make the effort to truly understand their clients and the goals of a particular project while, at the same time, introducing us to new teaching/learning/socializing trends. The success of this project was due, in large part, because the Jones Architecture team embedded themselves in our culture and became a strong and respected partner. This allowed the introduction of a new “feel” on campus that has been exceptionally well received.”
— David Magida, Chief Administrative Officer (ret.), Norwich University
Particular attention was paid to the building envelope. The design team worked with an envelope commissioning agent to complete blower door testing, showing an ultra-tight barrier with a cfm50/sf performance of 0.16.
Principal in Charge: Rick Jones
Project Director: Marc Perras
Architect of Record:
Freeman French Freeman, Architects
DuBois and King
Code Red Consultants
Acoustical & Theater Design Engineer:
Cavanaugh Tocci Associates
AV & Technology Consultant:
Vantage Technology Consulting Group
Green Leaf Architecture and Specification Support