Hamilton Village: New and Renewed College Houses

by David B. Brownlee

(click here for more on this picture)

  With the current exhibition in Van Pelt-Dietrich Library of all six models submitted in the Hamilton Village Design Competition, we have now launched the next phase of the College House renewal project. At a public forum held on October 28th, and in various print media around campus, we announced that Patkau Architects and Kieran, Timberlake & Harris were commissioned by the University to go forward with feasibility studies based on these designs.

The consultative committees, comprised of faculty, staff and students from the College Houses of Hamilton Village, are now working closely with the chief architects from these two firms, and all members of the University community are warmly invited to join in the discussion of this exciting project. A review of this project, and how the competition was conducted, follows.

The six competing firms were asked to consider the entire "superblock" of Hamilton Village, stretching from 38th to 40th Streets and from Spruce to Walnut. Specifically, they were asked to plan the renovation of existing College Houses, both to meet deferred maintenance needs and make them serve as better College Houses, and to design new accommodations for 1000 students. Other important goals included a preference for small and medium scale buildings, the creation of more intimate outdoor spaces, redesigned service and other vehicular circulation, and reduction of the wind-accelerating effects of the high-rises. An open, active boundary between the campus and the neighborhood was specified, with increased retail space on 40th Street. The location of the Walnut West Library at the corner of 40th and Walnut was to be respected, noting that the library would ultimately determine whether to remain in its current structure or build a new one.

Lessons from the Competition

The six firms responded with many provocative ideas, and from them, we learned very valuable lessons. The best of these ideas will be incorporated in the planning process. They include:

  • Use of non-traditional geometry. Several of the designers shaped their buildings and walkways with curves, circles, and diagonals. These attractive features echo some of our favorite landmarks on campus: the curved apse of Fisher Fine Arts Library and the dynamic line of Woodland Walk that cuts across Blanche Levy Park.
  • A piazza on Locust Walk between 39th and 40th Streets. Several designs eliminated the windy plaza next to Harnwell College House and added a "town square" in front of St. Mary's, the handsome Gothic Revival church in Hamilton Village, surrounding it with entrances to three or more College Houses. This piazza invigorates the connection between the campus and city.
  • Connect with the Sundance Theater, Walnut West Library, and, the new supermarket. This concentration of new activity along 40th and Walnut streets invites a diagonal walkway into campus near the corner.
  • Activate Locust Walk. Place the active areas of the College Houses (such as computer labs and lounges), as well as new hubs on Locust Walk.
  • Preserve openness to the city. No dividing walls, nor walls of closed buildings should face the surrounding neighborhoods. Active retail space should prevail on both sides of 40th Street. Gateways and openings should be strongly welcoming, and greenery should be visible from the street.
  • Make the high-rises more manageable. Several firms suggested we create two smaller College Houses within the body of each 28-story building. This would require separate lobbies and elevator systems for each House. Attaching two- or three-story additions ("skirts") to the bases of the high-rises would reduce their scale at ground level, provide needed public space, and ameliorate the wind-tunnel effect.
  • The importance of courtyards. Courtyards help to create a strong identity for the College Houses and their residents. This arrangement also allows the installation of a simple one-point security system for each house.
  • Variety in building height. By generally limiting the new College Houses to four or five stories, and raising some sections to 8-12 stories (like the new buildings on adjacent sites, such as Huntsman Hall, the new parking garage on 40th, and the Gateway Building of the School of Dental Medicine) we can mitigate the unsettling imbalance between very low buildings and very tall ones and provide a more interesting, varied skyline. This also preserves green space.

Dr. Brownlee is Professor of History of Art, the Director of College Houses and Academic Service and Faculty Master of Harnwell College House.

 Next Steps

Patkau Architects is now testing the feasibility of providing 700 College House accommodations in new low and mid-rise buildings in the northwest quadrant of Hamilton Village. This assignment is based on their competition submission, which created two College Houses in this area, each organized around a secure, green courtyard, with multiple doorways into living areas, and a pleasant fountain. Internally, Patkau's design featured extremely successful layouts for student suites, each with a kitchen, bathroom, and a single bedroom for each resident. The suites were gathered into social clusters, centered on fireplace-equipped lounges. They have also been asked to make provision in the westernmost House for a proposed visual arts hub on Locust Walk.

Kieran, Timberlake & Harris is further developing its competition proposal to divide Hamilton College House into two College Houses, each with about 400 residents and each with its own entrance lobby, elevators, and public spaces. Many of the required College House amenities (libraries, computer labs, house offices, lounges, exercise rooms, music practice rooms, etc.) will be provided in a skirt at the base of the tower. They are also studying the residential floors to see if they can be re-configured with a lounge on each floor and student suites with bathrooms, kitchens, living rooms, and a private bedroom for each resident.

These models, along with those from the other four architectural firms, will remain on display at the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library through Monday, November 15.

Questions, comments and suggestions are welcome; send e-mail to:

Almanac, Vol. 46, No. 11, November 9, 1999