Dickinson School of Law University Park and Carlisle, PA

Richard Olcott

Architype Dialogue presents

What was the most difficult issue about working within this building type or the most unexpected challenge that may have influenced new thought in your project?

The biggest challenge was to create a unified architectural identity from what is a binary reality.
An independent institution until its merger with Penn State in 2000, the Dickinson School of Law now operates as a single school on two campuses. While each campus has a distinct character, the designs for the two facilities create a unified identity for the law school and respond to Dickinson’s desire to create inspired and engaging centers for legal education. The Lewis Katz Building at University Park is a new facility completed in 2009. Lewis Katz Hall, an expansion to historic Trickett Hall on Dickinson’s original Carlisle campus, was completed in 2010.

The architecture of these two buildings springs from the idea that studying law is not a solitary endeavor: study and practice depend on dialogue, discussion and debate, which, in turn depend on human interaction. The goal is to facilitate interchange by designing spaces that promote gathering and communication, social and academic. Both designs acknowledge the library as the theoretical and physical heart of the legal educational experience, the center in which students spend much of their time.

Notwithstanding their nearly identical programs, radical differences in the site conditions of the two campuses sponsored opposing approaches to the designs — conceptually, the doughnut and the doughnut hole. The renovation and expansion at Carlisle is a conceptual urban infill; its identity defined by a void, a public common space that pulls together disparate elements of the campus; its focus is inward. The new building at University Park is an object in the open landscape; its formal identity and organizational structure are defined by the library; its focus is outward.

This unique challenge to create a unified architectural identity across two campuses provoked questions:

  • How to be in two places at once or in one place at two locations ninety miles apart?
  • How to honor the illustrious history of this 175-year-old institution and simultaneously express its ongoing progressive nature?
  • How to restore and add to the School’s original campus and also build an entirely new place within a large research university?
  • How to always feel part of the larger whole?
  • How to do it twice, but make it seem like once?

Did this project expand or evolve your role as an architect in any way? In general, do you feel that the role of the architect is changing on current projects?

We have always found that our clients, being primarily cultural, educational, scientific, and governmental institutions, are acutely aware of how good design can authentically express their progressive missions and respond to their specific environmental conditions. Ennead’s collaborative process has always been, and will continue to be, rooted in extensive research involving the latest in emerging technologies and sustainable solutions, as well as the analysis of context, program and institutional image. That said, our clients’ needs have certainly become increasingly sophisticated and technologically-oriented over the years, which in turn has resulted in our forging relationships that are increasingly collaborative as we continue to create buildings that address our clients’ aspirations.
How is your building possible today in a way that it may not have been before and how have trends in technology and society inspired new thought and solutions?

Clad in glass, the curving library volume is a complex, subtly undulating form. Recent technological advancements in computer programming allowed us to generate the sinuous forms of the curtain wall, its fabrication and coordination, all of which could not have been done 5-10 years ago.

We know developments will continue to be made. During the design process, the program for the Law Library received much scrutiny as the debate over the future of libraries as book repositories raged in academic circles. To both address current needs and accommodate future programs, we designed a flexible library infrastructure that supports the gradual phasing out of book collections. As technology continues to advance, students will have increased online access to their books and reference materials and a decreased need for physical books. We designed the library so that current book stacks can be adapted in the future into additional student-centered research environments.

In the context of this project, how is your office and design process being influenced by current trends in academic curricula and incoming young architects? In turn, how are current projects and processes guiding the ongoing reformulation and development of academic curricula?

Two of the biggest trends we are seeing today are the increased use of technology and the continued focus on sustainability.

Designed as the first of the two technologically connected interactive campuses, the Lewis Katz Building has created a new identity for the Dickinson School of Law on the main campus of the Pennsylvania State University. The 114,000 square foot building’s primary program elements – including a Law Library, four 75-seat classrooms, three 30-seat seminar rooms, one 250-seat auditorium/lecture room, and one 50-seat moot courtroom – are all connected by video-conferencing technology to parallel spaces on its sister campus in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, spaces which while once directed to be wired, now have to be wireless.

As a result of its highly wired and technology rich environment, The Penn State Dickinson School of Law is the first law school to achieve ABA accreditation as “a single law school, two campuses” program, capable of providing the highest quality virtual experience for its distance learning programs between campuses and across the globe.

Reflecting the goals of the Dickinson School of Law, the Lewis Katz Building and Lewis Katz Hall are LEED certified and utilize numerous sustainable initiatives within their designs. Both buildings and their surrounding landscapes utilize local and recycled materials, maximizing the use of natural day lighting in public spaces. Mechanical systems allow for operable windows and individual climate control in most of its individual offices, reducing the building’s energy consumption while providing greater comfort to the building’s population. From its continuous vegetated green roof to its reintroduction of pervious surfaces on what was a massive parking lot, the Lewis Katz Building helps reduce the amount of rainwater runoff by the site.

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