SOM designs new Wellesley College Science Complex as a “village”
Skidmore Owings & Merrill (SOM) has completed work on the Wellesley College Science Complex, a dramatic overhaul of the school’s existing science research and learning facilities anchoring the campus’ aptly named Science Hill. Spanning 100,000 square feet, the reinvention project involved both a major expansion incorporating solid wood and recycled materials as well as the renovation of outdated science buildings at the north end of the college’s 500-acre campus. all-female liberal arts from suburban Boston. The redesign takes the original science buildings, an array of structures designed over several decades in various architectural styles, and the surrounding landscape to reimagine the entire site into a cohesive “village.”
A major element of the design was to decide which of the existing buildings could be remodeled and extended to meet the needs of the ambitious refresh while taking into account the historical value and the programming and technological changes required by the renovation. Ultimately, the L-Wing, a modern 1977 addition to the 1920s brick Sage Hall, was chosen for its flexibility. Several other existing structures and facilities located on Science Hill are also incorporated into the renovation and expansion, including the Whitin Observatory, Global Flora Conservatory, Arboretum, and Botanical Gardens.
“Wellesley College is proud of its record of educating the highest number of women earning doctorates in STEM fields among our liberal arts peers,” Wellesley College President Paula A. Johnson said in a statement. “The new science complex will allow us to reinforce our commitment to training the next generation of inclusive STEM leaders by creating a collaborative center for teaching and research where students, faculty and staff can discover and learn together.”
Wellesley College offers a number of degrees in the STEM field; the classrooms, offices and laboratories housing these facilities are spread across several buildings. To make way for the reimagined science complex, the architects demolished part of Sage Hall, retaining an original brick wall and incorporating it into the new design, done as a series of smaller structures. The plank and zinc paneling on the facade of the Science Complex and the exposed concrete from the inside out stand out against the neighboring buildings that dot the college’s waterfront property.
“We have redesigned the science center into a village for teaching, learning and research,” added Colin Koop, partner at SOM Design. “The project is a thoughtful mix of removal, renovation and addition that will provide students and faculty with a more inviting and engaging experience.”
At the intersection of the L-wing and the restored part of Sage Hall is the Focus, an atrium that spans several floors and opens directly to the outside and adjacent hallway with a seamless guided transition by the introduction of new materials, in particular solid wood, which forms the heart of the extension. Stairs, ceiling rafters, window frames and even sculptural furniture have been constructed using this durable building material.
In the L wing, a 200-foot-long hallway has been transformed into a “whiteboard alley”. Off the main volume, several exterior decks have been erected, placing study and gathering spaces directly into the landscape. Spatially, the layout places classrooms, offices, and labs for similar disciplines in close proximity to each other, with built-in sofas, chairs, and gathering tables throughout.
Henry Fowle Durant, founder of Wellesley, believed adamantly that women should be “educated in the midst of beauty,” and so the college later commissioned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. to design the campus for him. give the desired beauty. This latest renovation revives Olmsted’s original vision, while introducing new gardens or “living laboratories”. This interactive landscape will be realized on site through classroom teaching during the upcoming spring semester.
Prior to the reinvention project, Wellesley’s science buildings were the least energy efficient on campus. Now, after a renovation and overhaul involving stormwater capture, updated mechanical systems, natural light, recycled materials, and more, the complex is among the most sustainable on campus. Thanks to these thoughtful sustainability measures, the project achieved LEED Platinum certification, a major milestone in the college’s goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2040.