Designed with the past, present, and future in mind, Worcester State College’s Wasylean Hall, Worcester, MA, was built to accommodate the college’s increasing desire to house a larger percentage of its students on campus. As a very vehicle-based site with many student commuters, ADD Inc architects quickly noticed that Worcester suffered from too little parking to accommodate commuters - but too many cars for safe pedestrian journeys across campus.
“Prior to the construction of Wasylean Hall, students were almost forced to walk through parking lots and access roads to get to [some] classes. We wanted to create a safer and visually pleasing route from the halls to the classroom and other facilities on campus,” says Dr. Sibyl Brownlee, vice president for student affairs at Worcester State College. Existing parking lots severed the residential campus from the rest of the college; but with ADD Inc’s master plan, a new “center” was created for the growing upper residential campus, parking spaces were moved and the building and landscape were designed around a new pedestrian plaza connected to other residence halls by clear, tree-lined paths. As a result, both safety and the opportunity for community interaction were enhanced.
With students participating in the early planning phases of the project, the new 6-story facility consists of apartment-style units of 2, 4, and 6 beds. It also houses a residence director’s apartment, a laundry room, new campus police and residence life offices, a multi-purpose room, and a coffee bar. “High-quality and attractive materials were selected to enhance the student living experience and to provide a durable, cost-effective facility over time,” explains Edward Adelman, executive director at the Massachusetts State College Building Authority, a public entity that develops revenue-funded facilities for the nine Massachusetts state college campuses. A brick exterior with pre-cast details, factory-finished aluminum windows, slate flooring, solid-surface countertops, and other products were chosen to achieve and sustain a first-rate facility over time. Meetings were also held with the campus’ neighbors to discuss the project and its potential impact upon the community.
“We wanted to move away from the typical institutional feel of many dormitories, with their long, windowless corridors of painted concrete block and industrial materials. We believe that if it looks like it’s designed to take a beating, it probably will,” says BK Boley, project design leader and senior associate principal, ADD Inc, Cambridge, MA. “A more creative solution is to use materials that are sturdy and easily maintained, but design with them in a way that has a positive quality and feel - something to be coveted and take pride in.”
One distinguishing feature of the building is its corridors. “The corridors were envisioned as places where ... students would casually meet and interact. This was achieved by providing informal seating areas at each end. Further to this goal, the wall materials and widths, lighting, ceiling materials and heights, and unit entries were carefully detailed and articulated so that there is a high degree of character to the hallways,” says Adelman. “Most importantly, the views down these hallways are always terminated with a view to the outdoors. This brings in natural light as well as the view to the outside, making the hallways very pleasant spaces.” And, as Boley explains, the student lounges at the ends of each corridor reduce the “psychological” length of travel. On one side of the 125-foot corridors is a warm-colored, ground-faced concrete block wall with glass-block inserts that increase in frequency as you approach the informal seating areas. On the opposite side are brightly colored panels of impact-resistant drywall. The flooring is an abstract pattern of colored vinyl tile that varies down the corridor. In Boley’s opinion, the result is “a bright, colorful, even fun procession from the elevator to your suite - and it can still stand up to the most rigorous wear and tear.”
With a variety of residence-hall styles already on campus, Wasylean Hall sits at the defining edge of the lower academic campus and the developing upper residential campus. “We decided that the new building had to be ‘transitional’ in its style between the different campus architectures and, while imitating none of them, fit in well with all of them,” explains Boley. “We also designed features in the new building, like the glass lounges, that would begin to look toward a newer aesthetic for future buildings that would still be in keeping with the traditions already established on campus.” A steel-and-glass tower at the entry stands in contrast to the solidity of the Norman brick cladding of the block-and-plank structure. And by coordinating - or, in some cases, contrasting - materials with those already found on campus, the building forms the other “bookend” of the campus residence halls, Brownlee describes.
The new residence hall is visible from almost anywhere on campus: Its new pedestrian plaza creates a secure and attractive gathering place, and the common areas located inside encourage social activities between and amongst all members of the college community. Wasylean Hall not only serves as housing and a gathering space, the facility offers a new energetic symbol of the college’s changing character.
Leah B. Garris (firstname.lastname@example.org) is associate editor at Buildings magazine.