Famous architect inspired by campus

by Jen Tutak | 11/2/01 6:00am

One of the first things to strike architect Buzz Yudell about Dartmouth was not the buildings but the happiness of its students. Walking around campus, he noted how approachable and positive the community was. Yudell could tell that Dartmouth was unique.

Now commissioned by the College to make the new North Campus Plan a reality, Yudell is excited about working at Dartmouth.

"I believe it is the only campus that has a true New England green where both the College and the town come together," he said. "I've been very impressed by the concern that [Dartmouth] has for student life, both socially and academically. It's just a great institution and a nurturing place, which is wonderful for us to work in."

A principal at architectural firm Moore Ruble Yudell, Yudell will be in charge of the firm's work at Dartmouth along with Project Manager Jeanne Chen. A second architectural firm, Bruner/Cott, will be collaborating with Moore Ruble Yudell.

Together, their teams will be designing and constructing several buildings -- including student housing, a dining facility and academic center Kemeny Hall -- in the campus district between Berry Library and Gilman.

According to College President James Wright, the administration wanted a single architectural effort to ensure that the buildings would relate to each other and become part of the broader campus. A number of architects competed for the contract, but Yudell's firm came out the winner with Bruner/Cott.

"He understands how a sense of community works and how the architecture helps to reflect and enable that," said Wright of Yudell.

Moore Ruble Yudell had to study Dartmouth's integrated campus plan, taking into consideration what capacity the building sites could reasonably have while still reflecting the beauty of the campus and its outdoor spaces.

After a review spanning several months, Yudell feels that they are ready to finish the master study of building size, height and bulk and start looking toward the individual building designs.

"We have a sense of their basic mass and basic footprints," said Yudell. "Essentially, they will be keeping with the density of the older parts of campus. The material palate will be sympathetic to the existing palate of brick and copper roofs and white windows, [but with] a freshness at the same time."

But for Yudell, the importance of his buildings goes beyond how the structures look to how they can enhance aspects of community. By contemplating how open spaces are configured to allow informal interaction and a range of activities, Yudell hopes to support both the academic mission and the spirit of the campus.

He describes his architecture as a "social plaid" that helps people to connect on various scales. Horizontally, he envisions floors augmented by their stairwells, kitchens and lounges. Vertical spaces can link one floor to another, in a type of three-dimensional "plaid."

"It's almost like different-sized neighborhoods," said Yudell. "I think the same thing can happen in an academic building, based on how faculty, undergraduates and graduates can interact between levels and across levels."

Though neither Yudell nor his firm has ever worked with Dartmouth before, the firm's founding principal, Charles Moore, designed the College's Hood Museum.

Yudell became interested in architecture at Yale, where he was inspired to pursue architecture from several wonderful teachers and a previous interest in sculpture and form making. After graduating from the Yale School of Architecture, he also spent time teaching at the institution.

Based in Santa Monica, Calif., Moore Ruble Yudell focuses on buildings that enhance and celebrate community. Sixty to 70 percent of their projects involve universities. The firm also designed the new United States Embassy in Berlin, Germany and the recently finished Maryland Center for the Performing Arts.

Looking for a partner closer to Dartmouth, Yudell contacted Leland Cott, a Principal at Bruner/Cott & Associates in Cambridge, Mass. The two firms have been supporting each other, with Moore Ruble Yudell concentrating on design work while Bruner/Cott focuses on blueprint drawings.

"Bruner/Cott is an excellent architectural firm," said Assistant Director of Facilities Planning Jack Wilson. "They are handling a lot of the more intensive on-site work: interviewing people, developing program statements, addressing issues. With their experience in student residences and dining halls, they bring an in-house expertise coupled with a closer proximity."

Engaged primarily in projects for college campuses, Bruner/Cott has worked with such institutions as Harvard University, MIT, Vanderbilt, the University of Chicago and Williams College. They also design houses.

Like Moore Ruble Yudell, Bruner/Cott is interested in creating buildings that are comfortable and friendly. They are also concerned with the sustainable design of their architecture, which includes looking at the economical, ecological, socially judicial and ethical components of construction.

"You have a responsibility as a designer to society in the way you build these buildings," said Cott. "It's very important today that buildings are mindful of these things. We're excited to meet the challenge that that represents."

Cott's firm was pleased to learn that Dartmouth shared the same sentiments. From the beginning, the College stressed they wanted buildings that would be efficient, economical, well-insulated and perform well as shelter.

"Dartmouth even has its own forest that it mines timbers out of for its dormitory furniture," he said.

The architects will be including students in their planning to gain insight on how current and successive generations may use the buildings.

"I'm really looking forward to working with a bunch of bright young people," said Cott. "We always like to use student involvement."

He believes architecture has an ability to transform the way that people behave and perceive the environment. He can still remember buildings from his past that were comfortable and made him feel good.

"We're going to try and create those kinds of buildings at Dartmouth," he concluded.