Text by John Morris Dixon, FAIA
Hired to add 160 student rooms to the Haverford College campus, Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects | Partners quickly discovered that the commission came with distinctive conditions. For one thing, the school’s Quaker traditions called for consensus-building, and the students’ preference for low buildings with single rooms became a determinant.
The beauty of the campus landscape was impressive, but this particular site included landfill that required significant soil remediation. The resulting excess soil was shaped into a berm between two rectangular two-story structures, turning a challenge into an opportunity. The visually appealing berm provides direct upper-level access to both buildings by a variety of ramps and bridges, thus eliminating the need for elevators or fire stairs.
Inside the buildings, student rooms are laid out along the perimeter, around common areas rather than corridors. The roughly textured brown brick of the building exteriors is repeated in a lighter color in the interior common spaces, along with a variety of wood battens, colorful ceramic tiles, and felt panels in custom patterns.
A central courtyard in each building provides protected outdoor space, and sliding glass doors in the adjacent lounges open into the courtyards when weather permits. The result is a residential complex where both buildings and landscape enhance the student experience.