When I.M. Pei designed the first building for Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications in 1963, media was a different thing altogether. Primary outlets included Time magazine, which cost 30 cents, and CBS, where Walter Cronkite had just taken over the anchor's chair, broadcast to boxy cabinet televisions across the country. In September last year, the school opened Newhouse III, designed by Polshek Partnership Architects, which places Syracuse back at the cutting edge of communications. Much of this is accomplished with an innovative audiovisual space known as the Collaborative Media Room.
The building itself completes what was long intended to be a small campus. In 1972, SOM connected a building to I.M. Pei's original 1963 facility, composing a larger but still incomplete arrangement. Polshek's new building not only adds 75,000 square feet to the school but also completes the small campus by forming a U-shape with the other buildings, which together articulate a central courtyard.
David Rubin, the school's dean, dreamed up the idea for the Collaborative Media Room when initial ideas for the building were being laid out. “This space acts like an experimental news room,” explains Rubin. “We're a professional school, and when our graduates get hired, they need to know how to run a website and to be totally fluent in the current technology of communication,” he says.
Underscoring the school's involvement in research, he adds, “Everyone in the media industry is managing from fear, and we're all trying to determine what kinds of content work online and how to monetize it. [With this new facility,] our faculty is now in a position to help answer those questions.”
“The Collaborative Media Room has become the fulcrum of the entire plan,” explains Tomas Rossant, design partner at Polshek. It provides a central, flexible point of convergence for different media, including web, video, television, and print production. Unlike spaces in the two older buildings, which are set aside for teaching purposes, this room remains open for flexible use and spontaneous gathering. Occupying a central location within the building, it capitalizes on its placement along major circulation routes. Roughly pie-shaped, with general dimensions of 40 feet by 36 feet, the double-height space has warm wood ceilings 20 feet in the air with full-length glazing.
To fulfill the room's mission, the architects were faced with the challenging task of accommodating a wide range of technological and A/V equipment. Polshek Partnership worked closely with the dean as well as with John Glass, the school's multimedia producer, and Michael O'Mara, its computer consultant.
For research, Rossant went to the new generation of media outlets and toured web-based news rooms and video editing suites. “Dealing with all this technology was incredibly exciting as an architect,” he says. Sounding a bit like Louis Kahn describing a brick, Rossant says, “The room wants to be a technical space.”