The new Heimbold Center establishes a dynamic interdisciplinary environment for the visual arts at Sarah Lawrence College, a progressive liberal arts institution, whose bucolic campus is located about 15 miles north of Manhattan.
From the outset, the College’s identified goals for the building informed our conceptual strategy environmentally, spatially, systemically and materially. The visual arts have historically occupied an important place in the College’s progressive liberal arts curriculum. However, over time the various disciplines in the program were dispersed across the campus in inadequate spaces. The College’s dual objectives of strengthening the arts curriculum and forging a new interdisciplinary direction in the arts could be achieved only through the creation of a unified environment that would inspire creativity, foster an intensive dialogue between students and faculty, and break down barriers between disciplines. The College also sought a leadership role in sustainable design.
The Heimbold Center occupies a prominent site adjacent to the President’s house, a two-story, fieldstone structure built in 1921. The building is integrated into the topography of the existing hilltop: on the south a stepped grass-covered rooftop reduces the overall impact of the building on the natural environment. The resulting landscaped space is a new outdoor public focal point for the campus.
To promote engagement with the building, and afford all students visual access to the creative process, the design incorporates pre-existing patterns of pedestrian movement between classroom facilities on the historic campus and dormitories to its west. Moreover, as the building emerges from the ground plane and its stone base, glass is employed as the primary material, affording visual transparency and maximizing daylighting within. Physical permeability is achieved by means of glass garage doors, which open to the landscaped terrace from studios, critique spaces and a café.
On the interior, teaching and exhibit spaces are integrated into the network of circulation and movement. While the studio spaces for painting, drawing, sculpture, printmaking, photography, film/new media, visual fundamentals, art history, and visual culture are specific to each discipline, production spaces are accessible to all students, and general critique spaces, seminar rooms and technology clusters are interspersed throughout the building. The integration of advanced technologies serves as an essential link between students, faculty and the arts community at the College and fosters an interdisciplinary process.
From the start, fundamental principles of sustainable design relating to siting, solar orientation, material selection, daylighting and mechanical systems informed the design process and were integrated into the overall conceptual design. Exemplary are a geothermal heat pump system, a recycled glazing system, which defines the painting studios’ northern exposure and a central sky-lit gallery, which forms a two-story lightfilled focal point for the building and unifies activities. Inspiration for the building’s primary materials – fieldstone, cedar, channel glass and zinc – was found in the campus’s rich landscape and its historic architecture. The use of stone from local quarries continues the College’s history of utilizing local fieldstone in the construction of its buildings, and contributed to LEED certification.