- Project Name
- Rockefeller Arts Center at SUNY Fredonia
- The State University of New York at Fredonia
- Project Types
- Project Scope
- 100,000 sq. feet
- Shared by
- Project Status
A classic I.M. Pei arts building gets an addition and renovation by the masters of thoughtful pragmatism.
How did the existing I.M. Pei–designed arts center influence your design for your addition to it?
Maitland Jones, AIA: What’s interesting about the SUNY [State University of New York] Fredonia campus is it is an artifact of design. It was designed by I.M. Pei & Partners in the 1960s, and it has a positive figural presence: It looks like a campus, it has a shape. But the campus had outlasted that initial vision. Everyone entered the arts center from the service side—the campus had grown up in that direction. We acknowledged that and gave the building a new face. The Pei buildings are all poured-in-place concrete with large expanses of glass and metal appointments. We designed an addition for the arts center that was mostly metal and glass with concrete appointments—in a way, turning the Pei language inside out. I think we offered a counterpoint to the heroic bluntness of his work by producing something slightly more delicate.
Deborah Berke, FAIA: This is really a new building laid right up against an old one, with both serving the same purpose: the education of young artists in the applied arts, the fine arts, and the performing arts. So we were collaborating with Pei, in effect, by positioning ourselves right next to him. What any architect does is respond to context, and Pei was our context here. We also understood that the Pei building is truly a large structure, with large moves. It has big theaters, a big courtyard, and it contains activities that take a lot of space. And we celebrated that. Ours is not a building with seminar rooms in it. This is a building where people dance and practice instruments, where they weld steel and throw pots. All the stuff has a scale of making that’s large and tough.
How did you balance design and durability in the materials palette for the addition?
MJ: We’ve designed a lot of buildings that serve multiple duties and constituents. It’s a little easier with art schools, because you’ve got a concrete floor and blank, white walls, generally. We identified areas of high-wear and we found areas for refinement that could be protected, like the zinc façade. One thing we’ve learned from doing hard-working buildings is that with forethought, you can have an elegant palette that looks deliberate and designed at any price point.
DB: The building is going to take a lot of wear and tear because it gets intense use. I mean, there’s actually a room where they teach young actors how to fight: They bounce off walls, they use rubber swords, they do this crazy cool stuff, but it takes its toll on the building. In addition to having materials that can take abuse, some of it is common sense, like not detailing in a way that your corner gets knocked off the first day somebody comes around it with a 2x4. It’s also paying attention to how you bring in the mechanical systems and expose your ducts, where the natural light is—appreciating pure elements about the spaces that can’t, no matter what you do to them, be destroyed. The light is always going to be beautiful, and the duct is always going to be perfectly centered over the workspace. If you pay attention to things like that, you’re creating a rich interior without it being about trim, expensive materials, or a froufrou form of detailing.
How important is daylight to the project?
MJ: We did something we think of as covertly radical: We introduced natural light and views into rooms that are ordinarily dark, like a dance studio. Dance studios depend on the barre and mirrors, and a prevailing sense of privacy to be able to try things out. But everyone agreed natural light is great, and that the activity might be a signpost for the building. I think today’s students understand that one can be visible but not on display. They have a different sense of boundaries between social space and study space or living space and public space, and that sense of fluidity allows a room to change purpose throughout the day. So we built a building where those boundaries could be a bit fluid. And that means it’s perfectly okay to have windows in spaces that might also be used for performance, to get wonderful, gorgeous natural light into spaces that might otherwise be dark.
You have a vast portfolio of adaptive reuse projects with structures by famed architects. How do you approach these projects, and how does this one fit in?
MJ: We want our intervention to be visible and legible and discernibly different. Who would continue the language of H.H. Richardson with more Richardson and beg the question, was this the real thing or not? What they have in common with our new-built work is an interest in order and simplicity and maybe a little bit of surprise and delight.
DB: Every one of our transformation projects is specific to that building, that location. We have had the great good fortune to do a lot of adaptive reuse projects in good buildings by famous accomplished architects, but they’re often truly adaptive reuse—you know, a McKim, Mead & White bank becomes a hotel. That’s change. But I think of this project more as a really good brand-new neighbor to a really good 50-year old I.M. Pei building.
Project: Rockefeller Arts Center at SUNY Fredonia, Fredonia, N.Y.
Client: State University Construction Fund; The State University of New York at Fredonia
Design Architect: Deborah Berke Partners, New York . Deborah Berke, FAIA, Maitland Jones, AIA; Noah Biklen, AIA (project lead); Scott Price (project manager)
M/E/P Engineer: Lakhani & Jordan Engineers
Structural Engineer: Robert Silman Associates Structural Engineers
Civil Engineer: Larsen Engineers
Geotechnical Engineer: Fisher Associates
Construction Manager: Campus Construction Management Group
General Contractor: Northland Associates
Landscape Architect: Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects
Lighting Designer: PHT Lighting Design
Façade Consultant: Front
AV/IT/Security/Theater/Acoustical Consultant: Harvey Marshall Berling Associates
Signage: Two Twelve
Size: 60,000 square feet (addition); 40,000 square feet (renovation)