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Dickinson School of Law, Lewis Katz Building, Pennsylvania, United States 
Monday 11 May 2009
 
Inspiring minds 
 
©Andrew Burdick / Polshek Partnership Architects 
 
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Penn State's Law School building opens 

Penn State’s Dickinson School of Law marked its 175th anniversary with the opening of its new 114,000 sq ft Lewis Katz Building.

The Dickinson School of Law, which merged with Penn State in 2000, operates as an ABA-accredited unified two-location law school from University Park and Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Asked to create a unified identity across these two locations, Richard Olcott of Polshek Partnership Architects has designed a building that responds to the law school’s desire to create an inspired and engaging center for legal education.

The focal point of the Lewis Katz Building is its glass-enclosed H. Laddie Montague Jr. Law Library with a volume capacity of 100,000 and seating for 294 students. The architecture draws from the idea that the law library is the theoretical and physical heart of the legal educational experience. As the center in which students spend much of their time, the library is conceived as a floating element, sheltered from the rest of the school’s program beneath. The ground plane flows unimpeded, linking interior and exterior space to foster the feeling of openness and accessibility emblematic of the school’s goals.

“The sinuous building form is a direct response to the presence of the surrounding mountains and geology of the valley,” says Olcott. “The curving library is clad in glass to create a constantly changing backdrop of reflected sunlight throughout the day and a beacon of light at night.”

Within, the library is conceived as a continuous looping circulation system, providing several different types of study environments. Each end of the sinuous form is directed at a specific landscape, one near and one far: the periodicals room faces the adjacent arboretum, and the reading room is focused on the more distant Mount Nittany across the valley. Beneath this floating aerial form is its counterpart, an earthbound series of volumes clad in local sandstone that contain the classrooms, auditorium and courtroom. These elements surround a broad commons area that opens to the landscape and follows its stepping contours, directly connecting the school’s interior programs to the surrounding campus.

The Lewis Katz Building was constructed to meet Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification requirements, utilizing numerous sustainable initiatives and local and recycled materials throughout its design. From its continuous planted green roof to its reintroduction of pervious surfaces on what was a massive parking lot, the building helps reduce the amount of rainwater runoff generated by the site. To reduce its energy consumption, the building maximizes its use of natural day lighting in public spaces as its mechanical systems allow for operable windows and individual climate control in most of its individual offices.

Additional building features include the 250-seat Greg Sutliff Auditorium; a courtroom equipped with the latest in trial technology; four 75-person classrooms; several intimate seminar rooms; legal clinic and student organizations suites; and outdoor terraces and reading gardens. As Marie Reilly, associate dean for academic affairs and professor of law at Penn State’s Dickinson School of Law, so aptly states, “Nearly every inch of the Lewis Katz Building is designed to draw students and faculty together in a close community in which students develop the analytical, communication and interpersonal skills the legal profession requires.”

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