Smith College-Wright Hall, Northampton, MA

Smith College embarked on the development of a series of interdisciplinary study centers. The goal was to create one, easily accessible location where students and faculty from a variety of departments across campus could come together to share ideas of common interest.

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R E Dinneen was given the task of renovating the centrally located Wright Hall for this integrated destination.  Built in 1961, Wright Hall, a 3-story, 38,000sf building stands as solid example of contextual modernism. Building on the concept of a circulation spine connecting various student services, Wright Hall’s new mission was conceived to be a collection of interdisciplinary study centers located along a building and campus pathway.  Joining the existing Poetry Center is the Global Studies Center (GSC), the Center for Environment, Ecological Design and Sustainability (CEEDS), and the Center for Community Collaboration (CCC).  The design challenge was to create identifiable environments for each of the centers, while allowing a sense of connectedness within the building, through the campus, and into the community.

The building underwent a major energy efficient upgrade, with a total replacement of all original windows and curtainwall with new thermal framing assemblies and high efficiency glazing. The existing HVAC system was replaced with new modular units controlled with integrated occupancy sensors.  Electrical systems were upgraded, and all light fixtures were replaced with state-of-the-art digital lighting management systems. Aging data systems were upgraded with new cabling distribution.  Fire alarm systems were upgraded, and the building is now fully sprinklered.

The new centers share design language in materials and detailing, while establishing identity with color and graphic cues. A need for increased accessibility and additional program space for the centers was satisfied by an innovative building addition cantilevered over the long-span roof of the auditorium. This solution created much needed square footage within the building footprint, providing space for conference, library and meeting functions. The main entrance lobby has been completely redesigned and expanded to create a welcoming gathering space, complete with espresso bar and lounge seating. A new glass and stainless steel stair continues down to additional study centers on the garden level, and the Weinstein Auditorium.  The auditorium was made accessible by a new entry, handicapped seating and stage access. Sprinklers were installed, new digital lighting control systems were added. The house lighting system was replaced with new state-of-the-art high efficiency LED fixtures, providing long term energy and maintenance savings.

“This building had been dark, dreary and functioned very poorly.  The new windows bring in so much natural light. The best part for me is that it feels exactly as I hoped it would. The color choices are fresh, and the design of the floor tiles - a really simple idea - gives character and life to the spaces.”

Gail Norskey, PhD., Director of Educational Outreach

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