Correspondence

What’s in a Name?

Your own “Up Front: Telling Stories that Matter” column said, “New buildings are starting to rise,” and was accompanied by an inside, front-cover photo of Building C, captioned, “the latest phase of construction at Mountaintop’s Building C was completed in January. ... The Art, Architecture and Design Department will take residence in Building C in summer.”

Building C? Since Lehigh prides itself as never viewing its students as “numbers,” it shouldn’t view its buildings as letters of the alphabet, especially not a C, which is inappropriate for a “Class A” institution like Lehigh.

So I modestly propose changing the name “Building C” to the more prestigious “Building SIE ... Gelman.” Or better yet, “Siegelman Hall.”

True, I only spent 15 months (June ’65–August ’66) at Lehigh while earning my master’s in elementary education, but...I asked first!

Richard Siegelman ’66

Reimagining the University Center


Rendering: University Center

I read with interest and concern the Bulletin’s recent article on “A Campus for Tomorrow.”

Certainly, the replacement of Trembley Park with residences that more intensely develop that site makes considerable sense. I remember as a student around 1970 reviewing the plans for this project and questioning whether the “Lehigh” stone walls in the architect’s rendering would really be built. That they weren’t should be a cautionary lesson for today.

Lehigh is, as are many schools today, in a competition to build superlative facilities in the race to attract future students. Lehigh doesn’t stand a chance of remaining competitive if results are measured in quantity. As a point of reference, up here, Yale has just completed over $1 billion in construction in the last five years on just two projects: a new business school and an 800 beds residence complex. Only a handful of schools can spend at this level.

Lehigh just might be able to keep up in quality... but not with the design proposed for the University Center. In a word, it’s horrendous.

For the alumni who are not architects, here’s a quick analysis.By comparing the one Bulletin rendering carefully hiding some of its worst features tucked in the fold, with the multiple renderings on the university’s web site under “Bridge West UC Projects Progress to Design Phase” and additional views on the architects’ (Shepley Bulfinch) website, it is evident that about two thirds of the UC exterior will be covered with new building including about one quarter of the north (downhill) face that one sees from the flagpole. Many of these pieces are rendered in the au-courant cliché of glass as if they would be transparent. They will be to some degree at night, but during the day they will be reflective and opaque—you’ll see glass, not the UC behind the glass.  Rather than standing proud as it does today, the UC will be struggling like a hapless victim cocooned in the movie “Alien” to be seen from behind its new accretions.

The south side (the side shown in the Bulletin) has two glass wings covered with some type of funky scrim in the pattern of fieldstone mortar joints, as if the pattern of stone is equal to using stone itself—trite. Between these is a glass wall in front of the UC.  Again, during the day, especially in southern sun, this will all be reflections and opaque, not transparent as the renderings imply.

And the quite wonderful existing southern gothic entry and iron rich stonework we’ve all come to love, and which is part of Lehigh’s unique image, will be demolished; that is the import of “An addition made in 1958 has ‘grown stale’” as the Bulletin says. That, for those of you who are not architects, is a lame architect’s excuse for “It’s in the way of my design and I want to do something different, anyway.” Around 40 percent of the UC is being thrown away because it’s “grown stale”?  That’s grossly irresponsible.

Lehigh can’t afford to throw away major portions of a building like the UC. And Lehigh needs and deserves better and more respectful design for its central and signature structure as it builds to face 21st century challenges. It’s time for Lehigh to rethink its UC design and start over.

Alumni, Lehigh’s administration is not protecting our heritage. Speak up or Lehigh’s heart and soul will be lost. Save it for Asa!

Robert W. Grzywacz ’72, AIA, LEED AP

 

Editor’s note: Thanks for your letter. The Bulletin reached out to Brent Stringfellow, associate vice president of Facilities and University Architect, for his perspective:

 

Debate over the aesthetics and purpose of the University Center is critical to our process as we move Lehigh into the 21st century, and I appreciate Mr. Grzywacz’s concern that we remain true to Lehigh’s values in all of our buildings. However, I want to address some of his more pointed comments: the demolition of the 1958 addition and the character of the new addition proposed by Shepley Bulfinch Architects. 

It is a critical goal for us to restore the grandeur of the original UC, built in 1868 under Asa Packer’s direction with Edward Tuckerman Potter serving as architect. The 1958 renovation and addition of the south wing diminished much of that character. The majestic south façade was covered with a superficial replica of the original, cutting off natural light from all the dining areas. On the interior, nearly all of the existing spaces of the original were modified, with only the Asa Packer room left intact. A double-height space and stair in the main lobby were removed, leaving the building and its occupants isolated at each floor and limiting the serendipitous interactions that help to foster student interaction. And functionally, the 1958 addition no longer supports modern dining and student services of the institution.

To that end, the current project will maintain the historic 1868 building and, in particular, enhance the iconic north facade facing the UC lawn. The original building will be supplemented by the dynamic new south addition, designed to highlight the restored south facade of the UC, hidden from campus for more than 60 years. The new addition will be literally more welcoming: a new courtyard will invite students from their residences as they descend to the UC and their classes. Students with disabilities will be able to access the UC from the south for the first time, making the path from upper to lower Packer campus available to the entire university community.

In order to support contemporary nutritional, social and community-oriented needs, the UC must provide new types of spaces. There are significant changes between the student populations of 100 years ago and today.

To this end, the proposed design provides space for students to find and nurture the personal, academic and social life that reflect the dynamism of today’s Lehigh culture. While Asa Packer’s gift has provided space to our students for more than 150 years, the historic UC remains opaque and inaccessible; the heavy stone walls and formidable entries create barriers to students and organizations looking to develop a sense of community that characterizes the evolving needs of contemporary student life. The new interior design will provide open, transparent spaces that engage and support vibrant student activities and engagement.

I also want to note that we are still in the design process for the UC project, and as such will be testing and evaluating options for the building not yet captured in the concept images published so far. We have engaged Lehigh students, staff, faculty and the surrounding community in the design process, in particular the student affairs team, to ensure the architecture is truly reflecting Lehigh’s principles and the needs of today’s
students. —Brent Stringfellow