Situated on the main quadrangle of the historic Williams College campus, located in the Berkshires in rural Massachusetts, the Paresky Student Center provides a much-needed venue for its many student and social activities, including formal and informal dining, meetings, gatherings, performances, and study and lounge areas. Permeable on all sides, the building design reinforces the principal east-west and north-south student pedestrian traffic patterns and creates a dynamic and vital crossroads of student life.
Surrounded by landmark buildings on all sides and facing Chapin Lawn, the central green space on campus, the site is extremely delicate contextually. The new building strives to achieve a contextual balance: it relates in its material quality and scale to the Colleges building traditions and establishes in its forms and massing a forward looking architectural identity emblematic of the Colleges progressive future.
An extensive programming process with students, faculty and administration revealed the need not only for expected student amenities, but also for a single major public space to function as a forum or focal point for the social life of the entire campus. This double-height central space, known as the Great Hall, is inspired by the lobbies and lounges of the great national parks and resort lodges of the 19th-century with their rustic construction, comfortable furnishing, generous proportions and open fireplaces.
Equally important is the significant outdoor space, the double-height porch that runs along the entire east faade. In the long tradition of New England great porches, it provides a welcoming portico and gathering space, usable through most of the year.
The extensive use of natural, local material, including wood from Williamss own forests, Vermont slate, brick and cast stone, resonate with the buildings on the Williams campus, past and present. They provide a direct connection to the uniqueness of the place and its powerful New England character, interpreting these traditions while reflecting them in a contemporary way.