Text description provided by the architects. Ann Beha Architects’ award-winning design transforms and expands an exclusive men’s club— an 1890’s Italianate structure— into a University-wide Center for Equality and Cultural Understanding. The project restores the historic building, repurposes and expands it, and sets it in a new campus landscape. The original Center, dedicated in the 1970’s, first established a common ground for dialogue on Afro-American issues in a modest former athletic building. This new location creates spaces for research, administration, teaching and community; musical, academic, and social programs. The Center is a hub of activity for groups of all ages and backgrounds and welcomes both on-campus and community groups.
Many campuses offer special centers to promote discourse on specific issues and concerns. As a center for the study and discussion of issues of equality and commonality, this Center sought to include a wider audience, and serve as a full campus resource. Rather than setting itself apart, it wanted to be mainstream and well seen. Having chosen a more prominent site, and becoming more transparent and accessible, today it is used by a dramatically increased constituency. The Center includes student lounges and gathering areas; seminar and program rooms; a tutoring and English as a second language center for area families; and student, faculty and administrative offices. In the historic building, the formal spaces can be opened to each other, creating flexible settings for small and large meetings and seminars.
A light-filled lobby and gallery connector leads to the new, double height multi-purpose room. The addition provides a gathering space for several hundred, designed for music, lectures, conferences, and special events. From this space, the new lawn creates a setting for outdoor activities, with a tent area for special events.
When ABA began the project, the building was in an advanced state of deterioration. Historic research and documentation, balanced with developing a new program and sustainability initiatives, guided the project. A decision to expand the building, to provide an added community gathering space, offered the opportunity to companion new and old. For the original building, the roof profile and zinc cladding, integrally colored stucco and cast stone quoins, lintels and detailing, and the front porch and ornamental metalwork were all reinstated. Wood floors were repaired; structural upgrades were extensive; finishes were replaced or stabilized; and original detailing retained and repaired. New energy efficient systems and sustainability features were integrated into the three floors of program space.
New construction includes a stair, lobby, and assembly space. These take their cues from the historic building, with its taut stucco skin and deep roof overhangs. The new connectors are light and glassy, and the façade of the new multi-purpose room deploys custom cast stone, matched in color to the cast stone quoins, but in larger dimensions, applied without ornamentation. ABA collaborated with a standard cast stone fabricator to provide both the restoration materials and contemporary elements. The larger cast stone cladding contrasts with expanses of glass and zinc, using the original materials in new ways still distinguishing new from old. The well-lit lobby faces an active campus street, and serves campus-wide evening and weekend programs independent of the office and academic facility.
The interior design introduces contemporary sensibilities, responding to the youthful occupants and the progressive nature of community and academic programs. The original building maintains its room configuration but introduces a lively palette and contemporary furnishings. The colorful carpets are an authorized adaptation of the quilt designs produced by Alabama’s Afro-American community, Gee’s Bend. The interior color palette was selected to respond to this vibrant color scheme. The new wing is paneled with Douglas Fir, with a pre-finished sustainable wood flooring system, suitable for dance and variable acoustics. The trapezoidal ceiling, shaped for acoustic performance, integrates lighting and systems. Interior and exterior concrete flooring was stained by an artist, offering high performance and a specific aesthetic at low cost.
The Carl A. Fields Center is designed for environmental sustainability. The restored envelope includes high performance insulation, windows, and a new seamless air barrier. Natural daylight, views, and operable windows are provided in all work spaces. Mechanical systems have improved measurement and verification made possible by digitally addressable controls tied to the campus co-generation plant. A variable-speed ventilation system linked to CO2 sensors is deployed in high occupancy spaces. Building products containing recycled content and low-emitting paints, adhesives, and flooring were used throughout the project. The site design restores and increases the amount of green space and integrates native plantings, groundcovers, and shade-providing trees.