Outdated Brutalist Facility Becomes One of America’s Most Resilient Academic Buildings
Croxton Collaborative Architects (CCA) has completed its renovation of Wooster Hall at SUNY New Paltz. A comprehensive transformation of the college’s outdated, 75,000-square-foot Wooster Science Building, the firm’s design maintained 96 percent of the structure’s 1967 Brutalist “bones” while converting it into one of the most resilient academic buildings in the country, the firm says.
Representing neither demolition nor preservation, CCA’s interventions were based on a collaborative decision with SUNY New Paltz to maintain Wooster’s urban design sensibilities, footprint, and embodied energy in light of the extensive code compliance modifications needed to update its Brutalist shell and interior. The goal was to achieve an archetype of high performance, both flexible and humanistic. To address and exceed this objective, CCA decoupled the structure’s concrete thermal mass from its exterior, then encased nearly all of its Brutalist “bones” in a new thermal and rain screen envelope to boost its energy conservation. The high thermal mass of the resulting interior provides extended comfort in a systems outage, and natural light flooding throughout achieves high viability in a totally passive mode.
Programmatically, the building relocates the college’s departments of Psychology and Anthropology and four engineering labs under one roof, enhancing student-faculty interaction and collaborative learning. These areas are housed on the building’s two upper levels along with a student lounge, café, and teaching/faculty spaces. The ground level contains an expanded café and the relocated student-service offices of Records & Registration, Student Accounts, Academic Advising, and Financial Aid, saving 26 percent in net programmatic space. Extensive daylight throughout the building and “open” views at the end of all main corridors provide secure wayfinding to the exterior in case of emergency. Four bars of sunlight on the Grand Central Atrium’s main stair mark solar noon daily, inviting nature into the building.
Outside, the building’s fresh exterior creates new relationships with the campus, community, and the site’s natural resources. It opens circulation from the adjoining quads and connected buildings and provides abundant social places. Open “Spanish Steps” and landscaping have replaced a “blind” staircase at the back of the building, dramatically expressing the transparency and clarity of the project’s humanistic design.
“This project leveraged fifty years of evolving design knowledge and values to revolutionize the building’s program and purpose, marking a transition from Brutalism to humanism on the same structural scaffold,” says CCA President Randolph Croxton, FAIA. “Ambitious in sustainable goals for building type, Wooster Hall aspires to LEED GOLD certification, but also meets the more stringent energy framework of AIA 2030, the pathway to all Net Zero Carbon buildings by the year 2030.”
“We couldn’t be more pleased with the new Wooster Hall,” said SUNY New Paltz President Donald P. Christian. “The re-opening helps the college meet a strategic goal to nurture innovation and the learning environment in a modern facility that addresses the academic and student-service needs of our students. We appreciate the hard and excellent work that CCA and many other people and companies dedicated to this project, and look forward to its positive impact on our campus for many years to come.”