Reestablishing connections

Tuesday 16 Feb 2010

Integrating a historic Olmstedian landscape into a 100-year-old campus

With its centennial approaching, St. Albans Academy decided to embark upon its first new construction project in 30 years. The institution aimed to complete a new facility for a student center, classrooms, faculty offices, library and auditorium. The school also hoped that the architects could create a cohesive linkage between several existing buildings.

The design team looked to St. Albans’ context for inspiration. The school is located on Mount St. Albans, the highest elevation in the D.C. area, and on the grounds of the National Cathedral, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. The landscape architect designed the Cathedral’s grounds as a network of walkways called 'pilgrim paths.' These paths guide visitors up the forested hill, revealing framed views of D.C. landmarks before terminating at the cathedral.

The design of Marriott Hall establishes an increased sense of interconnectivity with the existing historic landscape. The designers developed an architectural language around the idea of extending Olmsted’s paths, creating a series of interior and exterior passages that joins St. Albans’ lower campus with its higher main entrance. Along this new route are cantilevered volumes and open-air terraces, offering views of surrounding landmarks of the Nation’s Capitol.

The new building is a three-storey modernist building that carefully establishes a respectful relationship to the neo-Gothic architecture of the existing campus. The architects accomplished this by cladding much of the exterior with a blue stone that resembles the Potomac stone on the original buildings. Another significant facade choice was the strategic use of glass. The classrooms are clad in floor-to-ceiling glass, creating an ideal lighting environment by installing a light shelf eight feet up the glass wall. Below that point, the glass has a ceramic frit at 30-percent density. This mitigates glare and heat gain, while allowing daylight in the classroom environment through an indirect reflector.

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