I studied Civil Engineering at a small school called Lafayette College where everyone in my major was required to take a two-semester course called Capstone Design. Our project for the course was to work together as a class (60 people total) to design a new bookstore for the college. This was a project that was actually being considered by the school so we had the chance to put our skills to use on a real project with a real site and real constraints.
We broke up into teams to address different aspects of the design including Structural, Site Design (water, sewer, electric), Geo-technical, Environmental and Architectural. I joined up with the Architectural Team of four and we started to brainstorm. The building was to serve several functions beyond that of a simple college bookstore. The site was located on the edge of campus and the college master plan called for the building to be “the gateway to the college”. To orient you in the rendering, the building is on a corner with a street on the right leading to the college. In addition, the building was to house the campus post office, the print shop, a café, study rooms and a flexible space that could be used for events and art shows.
Beyond the general requirements, we decided that the building needed to in some ways symbolize the virtues of the school, so that as people crossed its threshold they were ushered into the spirit of the campus. Motion was chosen as an aesthetic element to represent the continual charge forth in the pursuit of knowledge. As was openness, to represent open-mindedness and welcoming the welcoming of new thoughts, ideas and people.
I took on the duties of the final exterior design and spent many long nights in front of AutoCAD designing what you see here. It was clear from our discussions as a team that we wanted an open, glass-walled, overhanging atrium. This was to take up much of the right side of the building. The left side of the building was a challenge though. It was to house the post office in front and it had to transition smoothly to the adjacent low commercial storefronts. I drew a low flat roof-line for the post office to start—it had to be low in the front lest it stand out like a sore thumb. I drew something boxy on top of that to start but it wasn’t right. I took a quick walk and it came to me: cylinder. I ran back to the computer and placed the rough form. It was beginning to take shape. The cylinder worked from an interior perspective too since the top floor was designated as a flexible event space. It would be a wonderfully interesting space to inhabit just from its geometry alone.
From there the final forms fell right into place. Its amazing how once the big decisions are made in a design, provided that they are good decisions, everything else is practically formulaic—there is no other solution.