SUNY New Paltz’s Wooster Hall Is Transformed from Brutalism to Humanism

Circulation and Connection

The interior stairway also is intended as a circulation path that connects the two quads. “We actually want people to cut through the building,” Shupe says. Wooster Hall also is connected to another academic building by a bridge on the second floor, which makes the 3-story stairway area a kind of “Grand Central Station” for the campus. The architects created a kind of freestanding front porch at the main entrance that gives the building the clear sense of entry it always lacked.

In addition to making classrooms bright and airy, the building’s programming fosters interaction between students and faculty with a new dining hall and student services offices.

In addition to making classrooms bright and airy, the building’s programming fosters interaction between students and faculty with a new dining hall and student services offices.

The renovation improves the exterior stairway just outside the building, making it safer and more of a gathering place. “That stair had a blind landing. You were blocked from seeing if there was anybody on the other side,” Croxton says of the original stairway. “It’s something we now know should be avoided.” In its place came a wider, grander staircase with an adjacent stepped landscape fed by rooftop rainwater and accompanying seating. “It becomes a place where people can stop and talk outside of the flow of traffic,” Croxton adds.

The building’s programming is also intended to foster connections and interactions between students and faculty. That starts with a new dining hall and student services offices on the ground floor and a student lounge on the second floor, which gives way to the psychology, anthropology and engineering departments on the upper two levels. “There was no dining in that area of campus,” Shupe explains. “You had to walk across campus to get a meal. We knew it would be great to put a cafe in, and now it’s packed all the time. It couldn’t be more convenient for students, because right across the concourse is our largest classroom building and next to it are the science building and the library. You’re right in the heart of the academic core.”

Adding a dining hall and student services to the mix of classrooms and offices at Wooster was not just about convenience, though. “It’s really about the students and faculty interacting,” Croxton says. “That was a big objective: to get as much faculty office space in conjunction with classroom and dining space—to encourage interaction.”

The Envelope, Please

Standing outside the building today, the most recognizable change is that the Brutalist raw concrete exterior is gone. It now is covered with a terra-cotta tile cladding with a rainscreen between the new facade and the concrete, which in turn helps keep the building a stable temperature thanks to its thermal mass. “It was the worst exterior wall in terms of comfort and moisture intrusion and deterioration of the masonry,” Croxton says of the existing facade. “We thermally isolated the concrete that was creating the pathway for the loss of heating and cooling inward, so that became a thermal stabilizer of the interior temperature.”

With its more robust building envelope and radiant heating, Wooster Hall is projected to use 36 percent less energy than a building designed to meet ASHRAE code stipulation, even though the project created 3,500 square feet of additional usable space. Shupe says the building actually uses slightly more energy than before renovation because of the fact that it previously had no air conditioning. More importantly, he adds, maintenance calls are only about 10 percent of what they were before the renovation. “It’s a much better building to be in,” Shupe says.

What’s more, in a time of increasing natural disasters, such as Hurricane Sandy, which brought the New York area (just south of New Paltz) to a standstill in 2012, Wooster Hall was designed to be resilient. “If you have a power failure, the building will retain the comfort condition for an extended period of time,” Croxton explains. “And the building in an emergency can be converted to natural ventilation without AC at minimal effort. The fire-safety system already has fans to pull air through the building. And every square foot gets daylight, so you wouldn’t need electric lighting to see.”

Since its completion last year, the project has been transformational—not just architecturally but socially and ecologically, as well: a new center of campus. “The Wooster Hall renovation completely transformed the 1960s-era Brutalist building into a bright, airy, modern space with centralized student services and enhanced spaces for academic programs,” says SUNY New Paltz President Donald Christian. “By repurposing this half-century-old building with great bones, the college was able to take advantage of its basic architecture and create a 21st century building that supports and reinforces our sustainability values.”

Croxton Collaborative Architects sought to introduce daylight into every square foot of the building as shown in this hallway before (right) and after.

Croxton Collaborative Architects sought to introduce daylight into every square foot of the building as shown in this hallway before (right) and after.

Retrofit Team

Owner: State University of New York at New Paltz
Architect: Croxton Collaborative Architects P.C., Long Island City, N.Y.
Associated Architect: Nadaskay Kopelson Architects, Morristown, N.J.
Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineer: Larsen Engineers, Rochester, N.Y.
Landscape Architect: Mathews Nielsen (MNLA), New York
General Contractor: APS Contracting Inc., Paterson, N.J., (973) 754-1980
Construction Manager and HazMat Abatement: Jacobs, Rochester
M/E/P/Life-safety Engineer: Kallen & Lemelson Consulting Engineers LLC, New York
Audiovisual/Acoustic/Telecom Engineer: Harvey Marshall Berling Associates, New York
Lighting Design: SBLD Studio, New York
Food Services Design: Dembling + Dembling Architects, Albany, N.Y.
Cost Estimating: VJ & Associates, New York

Materials

Terra-cotta Rainscreen: Shildan Group
Glass Entrances and Storefronts: Trulite
Elevator: Kone Ecospace
Lighting Controls: Crestron
Structural Glass: ISG (Innovative Structural Glass Inc.)
Countertops: Silestone by Cosentino
Paints and Stains: PPG Pittsburgh Paints
Floor and Wall Tile: Mohawk Group (Resilient Tile); Roppe (Rubber Floor); Stone Source (Ceramic); and Daltile (Ceramic)
Carpet Tile: Interface
Wood Ceiling: 9Wood Inc.
Terrazzo Flooring: Manhattan American Terrazzo Strip Co.
Brick Pavers: Glen-Gery

About the Author

Brian Libby

Brian Libby is a Portland, Ore.-based freelance design journalist, critic and architectural photographer.

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