Architecture as Teacher, Colorado College, 2007

Chapter from Architecture as Teacher, Packard Hall at Colorado College, 2007

Every project is an addition. Whether located inside, connected to, or entirely independent from an existing building, architecture derives much of its significance from the relationships it establishes to the world. Many of the relationships that we believe are important are intertwined with the building’s function–its use or purpose. When we consider the function of a building, we understand this encompasses everything from its connection to context, to the organization of interior space, to its material reality. The success of a design is measured by the specific ways these relationships are addressed and how well they are woven together. The layering of multiple functions, all of which are understood directly through the use and experience of a building, makes for a successful work of architecture.

The work of Architecture Research Office (ARO) at Packard Hall is grounded in the existing building, which was designed for Colorado College in 1974 by Edward Larrabee Barnes. The clarity of organization, simplicity of detail, and overall integrity of the Barnes design set the standard. Over the years, the needs of Colorado College’s students and faculty had changed sufficiently to require changes to Packard Hall. Our project sought to study and address these needs while also accommodating new requirements for safety and accessibility. During the early planning phase we worked with music and art faculty and Colorado College to define the program and to balance it with estimates of construction cost. As we began planning, we faced two critical requirements: first, providing the greatest amount of new space within the given budget, and second, constructing the project while the building remained occupied. From the outset we saw how architecture would define basic relationships–between past and present, between Packard Hall and the larger campus, and between the college’s music and art departments. The ultimate goal was to join new and old into a totality that would be an inspiring place in which to learn.

Site and Form
The original Packard Hall groups together three distinct blocks: a four-story art studio tower, a wing of classroom/office space, and a 300-seat recital hall. These elements enclose an entry courtyard, below which is located the building’s mechanical plant. To preserve this existing order, ARO studied several alternative locations for an addition. We thought of building on top of the existing roof. We even considered building in several places rather than one. The lawn between the back of the concert hall and Cascade Avenue, however, afforded a balance of cost, constructability, and compliance with the zoning requirements. This location had the additional advantage of creating a new civic identity with respect to the campus and the community, especially since Packard is visited by the public for concerts and lectures.

The addition’s design reflects concepts of extension and transformation within two linked elements, the south block against the Numismatic Museum property and the corner block that faces both Cascade Avenue and Cache La Poudre Street. While the south block extends the classroom/office wing, matching its height, width, and fenestration, the corner block is meant to re-situate Packard Hall and enforce its public presence. Oriented diagonally to the street corner, this new element defines the corner of the site, inflecting toward the courtyard. The characteristic window openings are arranged in a graduated rhythm that activates the entire surface.

Professor Carl Reed’s sculptural installation and new landscaping connect the building to its context. Stone cairns and paving guide visitors entering from Cascade or Cache La Poudre. A fountain created from stacked stone terminates the pathway and redirects movement toward the entry to the building. The rhythm, scale, and texture of the cairns and fountain strike a counterpoint to the architecture. These elements also extend the paving and stonework of the existing entry court, which was previously renovated by Professor Reed. His design includes beds of native perennial grasses and groundcover to encourage visual correspondence between Packard Hall and the campus.

Program and Organization
The new building program required approximately 10,000 square feet of additional teaching and support space, divided equally between the art and music departments. We addressed the needs of each department through the relocation and addition of space that consolidates the music and art departments into east and west sides of the site, respectively, to improve each department’s functional and social interconnections. The reorganization of space also reduced sound transmission from music classrooms to other teaching spaces. The west end of the existing building, anchored by a new elevator serving the art tower, houses the art department. The ground-floor level consists of renovated teaching spaces for art and a new media lab; the first-floor level has an enlarged slide library, reading lounge, seminar room and offices. At the other end of the building, the new addition provides space for the music department. We placed faculty offices, all with daylight and views, in the above-ground portion of the addition. At stage level, we enlarged the green room, which serves Packard’s music performance hall. The below-ground portion for music comprises a large rehearsal room, piano lab, classroom, storage, teaching studios, and practice rooms.

We sought to continue the generous, clearly organized common areas designed by Edward Larrabee Barnes in the project’s public spaces. The flow of activity, movement, light, and space between each of these public spaces improves the program connections in the art and music departments at Colorado College. The existing spaces at the midpoint and west end of Packard’s skylit gallery were improved as part of the renovation. The existing lobby at the middle of the building includes expanded administrative offices with improved accessibility and visibility from the main entry to the building. Notable for its view of Pike’s Peak, the existing two-story space at the west entry of the building facilitates access to the adjacent art department program. A new elevator serving the art studio tower is located adjacent to this space. Within the addition, our design created a new two-story common area to terminate the building’s main circulation spine, which is shared by art and music. This common area also functions as the lobby for the rehearsal rooms and nearby music classrooms. From here, a view through the entirety of Packard Hall’s two floors is the visual reminder of the improved circulation made available by the addition.

Connecting the addition to the existing building required ingenuity to provide access to the mezzanine and stage levels of the concert hall, which are offset from the main floor levels by approximately eight feet. The simplicity of the massing of the addition belies an elaborate sectional development to resolve the different floor levels. Another complication came from the limited building area, which required a zoning variance so that the lower level of the building could have the greater dimension required for the new rehearsal room.

Material and Construction
Edward Larrabee Barnes’s strongly volumetric design employs few materials to give Packard Hall its form and emphasize its mass and solidity. All of the materials and finishes are carefully controlled and executed with an economy of means. Portland cement stucco covers the exterior; the rectangular aluminum windows have a clear anodized finish. The black-and-white tiled “piano key” wall on the north side of the recital hall is the sole decorative element. The exterior materials of the addition complement Packard’s scale, geometric forms, and rhythm. Sheet rock, scored concrete block, and Tectum acoustical panels comprise the interior surfaces. Blue, yellow, green, and red walls enliven and distinguish interior spaces. The south block of the addition is clad in Portland cement stucco, which matches the composition of the existing office wing. Corresponding to the construction assembly of the existing building, the stucco is applied over concrete block.

After examining and testing several materials, we recommended cladding the new corner block entirely in preweathered zinc panels of a warm gray complementary to the existing stucco color. Expressing the lightweight layered construction, the 20-gauge thickness zinc panels are installed with concealed fasteners as a rain screen over metal furring, exterior wallboard, and a lightweight steel frame wall. Careful detailing of this metal wall-panel system, with later adjustments during construction through a full-scale mock-up, was directed toward creating an economical yet expressive facade. The vertically oriented cladding panels interlock tongue-and-groove with joints between them to create narrow shadow lines. Horizontal panel joints are not required because the panels are made from rolled sheet material and stiffened by the edge profiles. Perforated zinc panels in front of the windows orient diagonally toward the campus quad, acting as sunscreens and filtering views. These angled panels also break the wall’s taut surface, creating shadows. At night, the building glows as light passes through the windows and the perforation. Precast concrete skylight modules with translucent glass block inserts run the entire length of the addition’s east facade at grade level. These bring natural light to below-grade rehearsal rooms and classrooms during the day; at night, they wash the zinc facade with artificial illumination from the interior.

On the interior we chose materials limited in type and restrained in expression. On the ground floor the existing scored concrete block and blue-painted gypsum-board walls continue into the east hub of the addition, reinforcing the spatial continuity between new and old. In each of the music practice rooms, faculty offices, the piano lab, and music classrooms, Tectum acoustical panels provide a textural distinction from the white gypsum-board walls. In the rehearsal room, a different type of acoustical wall panel, with a unique pattern of round holes to both diffuse and absorb sound, ornaments the space.

Bringing the entire building into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act was a critical requirement. The floor-level offsets of the existing building necessitated three additional lifts to provide access for people and equipment to every part of the building. Balancing function, cost, and space constraints, each lift uses different technology. A very large, hydraulically controlled scissors lift, adapted from industrial use, provides a means of moving musical equipment –such as a concert grand piano–from a new storage area to and from the stage. A small self-contained passenger lift affords access to the green room and stage. To preserve the roofline of the art tower, the passenger elevator inserted within the existing building is a type that does not require a penthouse machine room. This elevator allows large artwork to be moved between the multistory art studio tower and the rest of the building.

Packard Hall inspires and nurtures the complementary aspirations of music and art. For Architecture Research Office, this project presented an opportunity to revitalize an existing structure and transform its relationship to context with elegance, durability, and economy. For those who may not have an opportunity to visit the new Packard Hall, this description is a means of understanding our design intent and the experience of the space itself. Through form, space, and materials, architecture frames the creative activities of the students and faculty who use it every day.