Smith College Campus Center / Weiss Manfredi

© Jeff Goldberg/Esto

Students at Smith College—the largest liberal arts institution for women in the country—are assigned to houses, many of them Victorian-era structures complete with living rooms. Meant to foster a collegial environment, while successful, they also create isolated communities. Broadening the opportunity for social interaction, the Smith College Campus Center serves as a mediating body, the only building at Smith available to all students, faculty, and staff.

Follow the break for more photographs and drawings of this Weiss/Manfredi project.

Architects: Weiss/Manfredi
Location: Smith College Campus, Northampton, , USA
Design Partners: Marion Weiss and Michael A. Manfredi
Project Manager: Tae-Young Yoon
Project Architects: Armando Petruccelli and Kian Goh
Project Team: Michael Blasberg, Lauren Crahan, Stephanie Maignan, Chris Payne, Jason Ro, and Yehre Suh
Structural Engineering Consultant: Weidlinger Associates Consulting Engineers
MEPFP Engineering Consultant: Jaros, Baum, and Bolles Consulting Engineers
Landscape Architecture Consultant: Towers|Golde Landscape Architects and Site Planners
Lighting Design Consultant: Renfro Design Group, Inc.
Civil Engineering Consultant: Fuss & O’Neill
Curtain Wall Consultant: R. A. Heintges Architects Consultants
AV/Acoustics/IT Consultant: Shen Milsom & Wilke
Food Service Consultant: Cini-Little International
Cost Estimator: AMIS Inc.
Waterproofing Consultant: James Gainfort
Construction Manager: Daniel O’Connell’s Sons, Inc.
Client: Smith College
Project Area: 60,000 sqf
Photographs: Jeff Goldberg

© Jeff Goldberg/Esto

Serving as a junction between residential spaces and academic buildings, the sixty-thousand-square-foot campus center is imagined as an elaboration of an en-route passage through campus. Defined by the interconnecting contours of frequently traveled pathways into and out of the college and constricted on two sides by existing structures, the building is oriented as a pathway: one end opening toward the community of Northampton and the other onto the campus. The design clarifies Chapin Lawn, an expansive oval feature of Frederick Law Olmsted’s original site plan that had never been fully realized. By redefining this important element, the center establishes a prominent new setting for the 136-year-old school’s historic structures.

© Jeff Goldberg/Esto

The longitudinal expanse of the building’s exterior is clad in a white-stained wood panel system reminiscent of board-and-batten construction and akin to the white clapboard construction of many Northampton buildings. Articulated by a seemingly random sequence of battens, the wood cladding activates the planar surface and weatherproofs the building with an innovative rainscreen assembly comprised of wood, plywood, steel, and insulation. The small apertures facing Elm Street, which faces the town, are subtle inclusions within a subdued facade, while the bold and expansive glazing on the campus side opens onto terraced steps that lead to Chapin Lawn. The broad steps provide the college with a central location for honorific events, including commencement ceremonies.

© Jeff Goldberg/Esto

Inside, the lounges, exhibition areas, performance and dining facilities, student offices, mailrooms, and bookstore converge at a long atrium gallery, where light from above penetrates through the three levels to activate the core of the building. Expansive stairways open sightlines vertically throughout the interior and a bold color palette accentuates walls, carpeting, and custom furniture designed by Weiss/Manfredi.

floor plans

Easily adaptable to different configurations, the furniture encourages occupants to inhabit and take ownership of the building. Throughout the atrium and in the dining hall, two related sets of café tables populate the space. A fragment of a highly chromatic botanical image printed on acetate is suspended within the cast-resin tabletops; when arranged together, the tables complete the botanical image. In the student lounge and throughout the building, lounge chairs offer restful places for reading or conversation; each is created from a single sheet of bent aluminum that allows the chairs to be gently rocked.

diagram model

With its welcoming furniture and pathway orientation, the campus center closes the physical and social gap between residential and institutional buildings, creating a communal living room for the college.

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Cite: "Smith College Campus Center / Weiss Manfredi" 07 Jan 2011. ArchDaily. Accessed 23 Nov 2014. <http://www.archdaily.com/?p=102102>
  • http://on.fb.me/holcim-awards Holcim Awards US

    This is a wonderful design. I like how it fosters a socially sustainable campus.

  • V

    As a former Smith student who had the opportunity to experience this glass and steel monstrosity I can say that it was not very well received by students and staff. In fact it was often called the “bastard son of Cutter-Z”, the art-deco-esque twin dorms widely considered to be the ugliest buildings on campus.

    It wasn’t that people felt that this particular building was ugly, but rather students felt it didn’t fit in with the gorgeous buildings on campus that exude New England quaintness. Not to mention that Davis (the coziest coffee shop on campus) was closed due to the opening of the cold and uncomfortable cafe inside the campus center as its sub par replacement. The custom furniture always felt cheap and had an Ikea-like quality about it. We always talked about where our tuition dollars went to while practically breaking the day-glo aluminum chairs.

    Also traditionally commencement is held in the Quad underneath the Wilson clock tower, it would be terrible if this has changed.

    • 00000

      not sure how long ago you were at smith but he campus center is actually the most widely popular and loved building. the reason it doesn’t fit in with the old victorian style is because of Sophia Smith’s will and her declaration that all buildings need to be built in their current time period. the campus center is a reflection of current style and adds to the ongoing legacy and history of smith. it is the central heartbeat and meeting place for students, faculty, and guests and people love it.

  • danielle mckahn

    this is a really great, beautiful new building. it is a very different style from others on campus, but it works. it also encloses the quad it sits on and has created a more well-used outdoor space.

    i take issue with the article however, which says that the house system at Smith creates isolated communities. you can’t know everyone anyway. the house system fosters tight knit friendships among a diverse mix of people, rather than friendships based only on a single shared interest (such as playing a sport together). having a new and more central campus center is great, and is useful for study groups, late night eats, and sure, meeting up with friends who aren’t in your house – or going out with friends who are in your house. But, it’s not fixing a broken or isolating residence system – that’s an overstatement.

  • kathryn

    I am a Smith graduate – during my time at smith there was no real “center” to campus. Davis was in one spot, the mail room in another across campus. and Davis wasn’t big enough to allow the sorts of activities that the new campus center does. The siting of this building, as an edge to the oval and taking advantage of the stunning views of Paradise Pond and beyond, is in my opinion masterful. We were initially opposed to the design as it felt too modern / contemporary, but with its appropriate scale and site, the campus center has benefitted the Smith community and continued to move us forward instead of clinging to an architectural motif of the past.