Spillman Farmer Architects completes gateway at historic Bryn Athyn Campus
Bryn Athyn College is a unique institution established to offer a program of higher education in the liberal arts grounded in the teachings of the New Church (also called the General Church of the New Jerusalem). The college’s vision for this project, an addition to an existing academic building, was the creation of a campus living room where current students could gather and visitors could be welcomed into the heart of the community.
The two-story, 31,500 sq ft building is nestled into the natural grade of the landscape and appears, when approached from the west, to be a single storey. The plan is organised in an L shape, with one wing (east) abutting the existing building and the other wing (north) extending out. The primary volumes within the building are the campus Great Room on the first level and the two storey dining room/multipurpose hall on the lower level.
The Great Room is distinguished by heavy timber framing whose structural connections (metal tie and sag rods) are exposed in the Arts and Crafts spirit. A central stone and brick fireplace hearth (a nod to seminal Arts and Craft architect Bernard Maybeck) is flanked by large windows that provide views down into the lower-level dining hall. Here, a second fireplace and wood finishes provide warmth to the expansive multipurpose space. The upper level also supports office and administrative space for the President and Admissions staff while the lower level provides back-of-house and kitchen equipment to serve the building.
The Brickman Center has three distinct entrances purposefully designed to convey a subtle hierarchy of experience. The first entrance, on the west side of the building, is that used by visitors, staff, and students alike. This entrance is characterised by a dramatic structural brick arch, handcrafted wooden doors, and a wood-framed circular rose window centered above. In the spirit of the Arts and Crafts Movement, the doors and window were locally hand crafted (by a member of the Church from the wood of large oak tree removed from the site); in the spirit of New Church theology, their design is rich with symbolism. For example, the rose window features seven petals, the number seven signifying a full state of intelligence and wisdom in the Church theology.
The second entrance, located on the south side of the building, is used daily by most students, who enter the building from the campus quadrangle. It is distinguished by a structural brick arch and a second stone tower. Indigo glazing in the tower windows bathes the stairwell with a gentle azure light, a detail that, like the rose window, has architectural and theological significance.
The third entrance provides access to the lower level of the building and is a functional but not primary entry. Accordingly, the design downplays its prominence by capping it with a simple slate eyebrow. On the west side of the building, a colonnade reaches out to the main public vehicular thoroughfare. Punctuated by a dramatic tower, it is a welcoming handshake for visitors and provides graceful covered and accessible passage from the main street to the Center. It is also a gesture to the historic campus and beloved Cathedral located further west. Walking through the colonnade, one notes a gradual rise from the street to the building.