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Innovative Architecture to be Implemented in New Social Science Building

by Indy Srinath, staff writer

Carson now lays buried in the rubble, upturned earth, and bitter nostalgia of our memories. We can see it, still, as a fading silhouette in our rearview mirrors, as our community lays a leaden foot on the gas pedal–speeding toward a future comprised of the improved, the innovated, and the advanced. If memory serves as the mind’s graveyard, then in it we must resurrect our image of Carson. Not as we once saw it, but as the new edifice that will stand in its absence, as the new Social Sciences Building.

Carson was demolished last summer, due to a mold infestation. Photo by Wyatt Pace

For now, the building is still a foggy vision on the horizon of the mountain-framed view it will occupy (but certainly not obstruct!) between where Carson once was and where Spidel stands now. Two meetings, thus far, have been held to bring the building into the forefront of our minds–clarifying what began as a proposal with the details it needs to become a reality. Now, our campus architect Steve Farrell has joined with caucus co-conveners Maggie Mae Farthing, Felicia Hall, and Ben Surface, and the plan for the new academic building is in the pre-design stage.

The meetings, which are open to the Warren Wilson community, allow students and faculty to slowly sketch the idea upon the project’s practically blank canvas. Because the project is still in the pre-design stage (to provide clarification as to what pre-design entails, Farrell inserts that “if pre-design is forming the question, then design is forming the answer”), there is more than enough room for suggestion. Suggestions from the last meeting entertained the notion of including a café in the new building, making the restrooms gender neutral, and including a spacious back patio to celebrate the view of the tree-lined valley.

A few suggestions have already garnered a permanent position in the building’s future. Farrell posits that the building will follow the ‘hub’ style. As described by Farrell, a hub is a “place of social and entrepreneurial interaction. It is built to encourage and not preclude informal learning.” Stairway landings that follow the hub style provide enough room for two individuals to branch off and engage in discussion without interrupting the flow of traffic. It is a design filled with cubby holes, niches, and outlets that present a space for individuals to gather to conduct informal education. The kitchenette in the new building will be purposefully small enough to buoy social interaction. Says Farrell, “We want to learn from hubs, they are the cutting edge of social sciences…it doesn’t cost us anymore; it just means paying attention to detail.” Hubs use glass fixtures as a learning tool. Says Farrell, “Glass is necessary because it provides transparency, people are actually encouraged to write on the glass.” In a hub style building, glass is the prevalent surface and infrastructure as it allows students to transpose their ideas directly onto their surroundings without being limited to a white board. The building will also include a living room style lobby as opposed to a more sterile common room. This will further boost informal learning and will not confine professors to their offices, but rather incorporate them into the flow of students.

The building committee began talking about the idea for the new building around Dec. 1, but the actual design stage will probably begin next fall. It has been approved to occupy the space where Carson once was, as it is not disruptive to the pre-existing landscape and architecture. Asserts Farrell, “We don’t want to block that view with walkways and nobody wants to cut down the Holly trees. I don’t want to cut down the Holly trees…” It will cover 1600 sq. feet and include four to five classrooms with the possibility of an additional lecture hall. There is also a directive to include offices so as to take the Social Sciences faculty out of Jensen and Mitchell, unifying the department geographically and thus, socially. This will resultantly leave unoccupied office spaces in Jensen and, hopefully, this office space will be lent for the convenience of adjunct professors.

Renovating Jensen

In the midst of all of the pre-design for the new building, another topic was raised during the meeting. There seems to be a need for more large scale lecture space because, as one meeting member remarked boldly, “We ought to fix Jensen because no one really wants to be in the Jensen Lecture Hall,” to which the member received a wave of affirming nods. Another member remarked, “[Jensen] seems like a waste of space, it always ends up with people sitting on the steps because of the way the chairs are.” Thus plans are underway for remodeling Jensen Lecture Hall. Because Jensen was built before 1988 it does not, and is not obligated to, meet many of the modern building standards. However, this means it is not wheelchair accessible. Says Farrell, “We need to make buildings more wheelchair accessible. There isn’t anybody in a wheelchair here, but does that mean people in wheelchairs do not exist anywhere? No… We don’t want to turn away people because the buildings are inaccessible.” Farrell is also concerned with making the campus walkways more pedestrian friendly. “We are using car-centric thinking and we need to go back to ped-centric thinking. If we expect people to not walk in the roads then we have to give them a place to walk. We need a cure for the vehicular circulation nightmare.” Another meeting attendee remarked in regards to the new building’s proximity to Spidel, “The folks who use Spidel don’t like Spidel…” Thus began the plans to either improve or replace the building altogether which may entail breaking sectional alignment. But Jensen Lecture Hall is not the only large lecture space that is in need of architectural affection. According to one member of the meeting, “Kittredge seats are full of lead. They have [lead] levels higher than lead paint in the plastic…” There is an initiative to replace the Kittredge seats over winter break with safer seats that will include a built-in desk as there is currently no writing space in Kittredge, making it unfit as a legitimate lecture hall and confining it to its function as a performance space.

But the new building will take precedence over any remodeling acts. The new Social Sciences building will prove to the campus (as well as the outside community) that Warren Wilson is holding steadfast to its pledge to sustainability. The building will strive for LEED Platinum certification (which is the highest LEED level) and it will hopefully attain Net Zero Living Building Challenge, which means that it will produce as much energy as it consumes. The building will also feature geothermal energy.

The plans for the new building are well underway and hopefully will be taking the form of blueprints within the year. Students had the opportunity to share their ideas and have their input included in the planning of the new building during an open meeting with Farrell last Wednesday, April 25.


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