Amherst Magazine

Flip That Dorm

By Emanuel Costache '09

Stairwell in Charles Pratt
The main stairwell in Charles Pratt
Dormitory on move-in day.


The old bones are gone. So are the construction cranes. What’s left in Charles Pratt Dormitory, previously home to the college’s Museum of Natural History, is a living and learning space for 111 lucky first-years, with ample room for studying, gathering and recharging.

The main common area, with its two-story window, is large enough to accommodate all of the dorm’s residents, who first put the space to use during a dorm meeting on move-in day in August. A large room in the basement has already been used for a first-year barbeque that featured bands and an a cappella group. “It feels very community-oriented,” Josh Nathan ’10, a resident counselor in the dorm, says of the building. “And there are tons of small, cozy nooks that are great for sitting down with a book or a laptop.” Academic Peer Mentors seem to be a constant presence in the second-floor study room, Nathan adds. The dorm also houses the college’s Writing Center.

Charles Pratt
The building's renovated exterior

In 2006, Charles Pratt’s former tenants—the mastodon and wooly mammoth skeletons, along with the rest of the natural history collection—upgraded to the new Earth Sciences and Museum of Natural History Building. Now the first floor has a three-story lobby and a vaulted glass ceiling. Holding up all that glass are the building’s original richly stained, hand-carved, solid wood beams, around which the main stairwell winds itself. (Potential climbers, beware: the beams are protected with laser security sensors.) The rooms are equally impressive: there are a number of split-level doubles, each of which has a six-step stairwell and a partial wall for privacy.

The renovation, or re-creation, of Charles Pratt fulfills the first of two main goals of the Residential Master Plan: to bring all first-year housing onto the Main Quadrangle. The other goal is to update all dorms to include modern, energy-efficient mechanical, electrical, plumbing and heating systems, and to improve wheelchair accessibility. Charles Pratt is now among the dorms that have energy-saving washers and dryers, a heat-reclaiming system and high-efficiency shower heads and lighting, among other features. In addition to the dormitory im­provements, a solar panel array was recently installed on the roof of President Anthony W. Marx’s house, further increasing the energy savings.

Charles Pratt Split-Level Double Room
Inside one of the new split-level doubles in Charles
Pratt.

Hamilton and Porter dormitories also got new looks (and energy-efficiency makeovers) for the fall. In Hamilton, an impressive front entry hall has hardwood floors and a rejuvenated stairwell. The sea of lightly stained oak on the floors and walls draws guests into a grand sitting room and adjoining ballroom, complete with a kitchenette. Samuel Miller ’10 says he’d like to bring his woodwind quintet to the ballroom someday to give an informal concert.

New landscaping behind Hamilton and Porter has opened up a path between the two dorms and made the green behind Alumni House easily accessible for viewing, sitting and the occasional afternoon nap. Porter is home to the German and Russian theme houses. Its entry hall now showcases the main stairwell, with its gray stone steps and dark wood banisters. The lounge and library open to a glass-enclosed porch.

Photos: Frank Ward and Samuel Masinter '04