October 30, 2019
Dear Community Members,
As you know, we have long needed a student center on our campus that will support a vibrant sense of community and offer students, in particular, the kinds of social spaces that are currently in short supply. This morning The Amherst Student published the good news that we have made a formal commitment and have selected an architect.
After several months of soliciting feedback from on-campus constituencies, using town halls and smaller-group discussions, we developed a preliminary brief and solicited proposals from architects. At the October meeting of the Board of Trustees, we presented our selection of the architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron. HdM is a Swiss firm best known for prominent projects such as the iconic “Bird’s Nest” stadium in Beijing (created in conjunction with artist Ai Weiwei for the 2008 Beijing Olympics), and the transformation of the Bankside power station in London into the Tate Modern art museum. The firm also has a longstanding practice of using much smaller projects such as ours to refine their expertise in the areas for which they are best known: creating nuanced environments attuned to human experience and developing spaces that heighten, rather than mask, the specifics of a place. HdM projects feature materials and shapes in thoughtful dialogue with their surroundings and strong connections between indoor and outdoor spaces. They are well known for sustainable design. We are excited about working with them.
The new center will be situated on the current location of Merrill and McGuire, a spot chosen for the way it mediates between the historic main quad and the new Greenway. The site offers spectacular views and unusual topography that the architect is eager to preserve and feature. Although Merrill and McGuire will be taken down, the architect proposes incorporating the foundations of these buildings into the new design as both an architectural opportunity and a sustainability measure. Like the Science Center, the new building will have sustainability embedded in all aspects of its design.
During the remainder of this semester, architects and key members of our teams in facilities and student affairs will meet with students, staff, and faculty to learn more about your vision for the building and its uses. A group of 12 students graciously serve on the Student Center Engagement Committee and will continue to focus on student hopes for the center. All community members will be invited to participate in discussion meetings on a schedule to be announced very soon. We are also creating a webpage where you can submit thoughts and follow updates. Once the programming phase is complete, the architect will develop a conceptual design that will define its architectural characteristics. The goal is to complete this design by late spring 2020, at which point we will produce a timeline for the construction phase.
Your participation has already mattered. It will matter even more as we move forward to create more of the kinds of spaces that we know are lacking at the College. I look forward to the conversation.