Sometimes, architectural complexity comes in a simple form, even a box. The Diana Center, designed by New York–based Weiss/Manfredi for Barnard College, looks simple: a five-story glass prism served straight-up. Its terra-cotta color matches the largely brick Barnard and Columbia University campuses, which face each other across Broadway.
A closer reading, however, reveals a narrative of complexity. The façade is paneled in glass, but not in a display of transparency for transparency’s sake: Some panels have a graduated frit; others are shadow boxes, with space between a translucent glass outer layer and a second opaque inner layer. The functions inside the building establish whether the panels will be opaque, transparent, or something in between. A swath of transparent glass rises diagonally up the Broadway façade, revealing a stepped, four-story atrium full of activity.
In 2003, the architects won an invited competition to design the building as a student center, with classrooms and studios devoted to art, art history, architecture, and theater. The college wanted a mixed-use building whose circulation and adjacencies would help catalyze interaction between students, faculty, and the various disciplines.
The architects—the firm’s full name is Weiss/Manfredi Architecture/Landscape/Urbanism—acted as their own consultants, applying their several disciplines simultaneously. They developed the site, landscape, and plans together as an integrated and complex whole.
The former building on the site, the McIntosh Center, was built in 1969, when institutions that were then allergic to the city walled themselves off self-protectively. The fortresslike building even divided the campus, with a front plaza and a daunting flight of stairs higher than Milbank Hall—the oldest structure on campus—next door.
Read the full article: http://www.architectmagazine.com/education-projects/diana-center.aspx