EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR’S LETTER

by Ray Barclay

LIVING north of Philadelphia and south of Princeton, my neighborhood (Burlington City)  is off of route 95 and along the Delaware river.  It is a city and a region replete with vernacular architecture consisting of brick row houses from the Colonial through Victorian periods akin to the many other communities along the Delaware river. The region has drawn upon a bed of high-quality clay for its brick making that produced over 200 million bricks a year by the end of the 19th century.  In addition to the vernacular examples still standing today, there are also quite ornate and grand examples of the use of brick.  In 1888 the University of Pennsylvania contracted with the firm Furness, Evans, and Co. to build the stately red brick, brownstone, and terra cotta Furness Library. 

Postcard: “The Library, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.” (1904-Source: Ebay)


“Principal Floor of the Library Building for the University of Pennsylvania,” illustration in Proceedings at the Opening of the University of Pennsylvania Library (Philadelphia: February 7, 1891)

Specifically, Furness placed great attention on the question of circulation of people and his stairhall was a precursor to the served-servant concept later taken up by long-time Philadelphia resident and architect Louis I. Kahn.  Furness’s design was advanced for its time in the way he enhanced the interplay of structural technologies and materials (steel, cast iron, structural glass, and brick). 

Ironically, the building was erected at the same time as the campus master planning was moving the orientation west of the area where the building is situated now. So, the form of the building and its orientation toward the streets to invite entry and interaction are not as readily apparent as they were at the time of its design and construction given changing topography and street development. The entrance is inviting with openness as exemplified by its large stair tower inviting the public into all of the spaces of the building.  The building, when approached, feels like you are entering from within the campus quad rather than from an outside or more open entry from the perimeter of the campus as historians note was initially intended.

The Frank Furness company was a well known architectural firm and was responsible for the design of many public spaces in late 19th century Philadelphia. Although no longer standing, Furness designed a plethora of public buildings in the city such as the Broad Street station, the Arcade Building, the B & 0 Station, and the Library Company building. Two well known buildings that still stand today are the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the First Unitarian Church situated in the heart of the city.  Furness’s expression of public interaction was clear in a majority of his renowned architectural designs which is clearly the reason he received the contracts he did from the leaders of the city.

In Kahn’s work we find the expression of two types of spaces: the servant spaces which support the main areas of the building (e.g., storage and technical rooms, stairs and corridors, duct shaft and kitchens)  and the served spaces which function as the primary area (e.g., performance spaces, living rooms, labs, classes, and exhibition spaces).  One could say the circulation space is almost a third-space or conduit and primarily the integrative space or confluence between the two, but arguably it is the served who are the focus of its design.  Kahn’s approach put a fine point on the role of the mechanical in the planning and design of the space as well its reflection in the aesthetic.  It seems that in our age of resilient, sustainable, and innovation-oriented designs these concepts are still at play and emphasized in different ways on college campuses today as they seek to strengthen and highlight the mechanical and the communal.

For instance, Virginia Tech and SmithGroup (see embedded link below) created a model innovation campus master plan in a densely populated urban environment that is a “design centered on the principles of sustainability, health and wellness, green and social spaces, accessibility, connectivity, flexibility and integrated technology”. The team made many design decisions through the lens of carbon goals, including analyzing ways to reduce embodied carbon emissions from both materials and the construction process with architectural forms that are sculpted to enhance circulation areas, entry points and an adjacent carbon neutral ecosystem.  

The site and building promote connectivity among campus and community. The landscape transitions from urban plaza to campus green—referencing a classic campus—with spaces for community programming, and landscape features oriented to draw people in. The building’s first floor will be activated with exhibits in the lobby and transparency toward the mixed-use development and campus green.


Virginia Tech – Innovation Campus and Academic 1 Building

It is not just large research intensive campuses, but regional and liberal arts campuses such as Rutgers-Newark renovating an older downtown warehouse to create “Express Newark” as 3rd space hub, Grinnell College’s Confluence Zone initiative to create more fluidity between the campus and community, or the Anchor University initiatives which focus on addressing the health, economic, and education needs through physical and programmatic hubs focused on the needs of a community and those needs for transition or confluence zones.   The goals of all of these initiatives are essentially to create design strategies, master plans, participatory planning processes that engender campus-community “confluences” to enhance integration and promote co-involvement in local community development aimed at economic, social, environmental justice and resiliency.

It is within this context that ARCdI wants to highlight these fundamental campus design and innovation topics. We also want to ensure grassroots efforts, related social, economic, and environmental justice activities, and the role that design plays in participation and collaboration does not get lost in the shuffle We have seen at many national conferences hosted by other organizations have tended to exclude more of the grassroots activities that are being undertaken outside of the large, well-funded university planning offices.  We need a forum to hear all of these stories, engage more participants, and dive more deeply into these issues so we can learn from one another and expand our ideas, consider the values for pursuing this work, and deepen our approaches.  

The need to consider these issues is critical as we find a rush akin to the amenities agenda of the last 20 years by campuses to expand their footprints into cities and towns in response to economic, innovation, and expansion agendas. It is good to open up more dialogue and ask ourselves what does it mean when the streets are changed in the next master plan? How will the design principles, surrounding community considerations, and uses pertinent to the original design of buildings developed under the prior plan persist or fade and what are these implications? What are other considerations we should reflect upon that might be pertinent to our responsibilities for creating more resilient and sustainable designs?  Recall AIA’s charge that designers and architects should “exponentially accelerate the decarbonization of buildings, the building sector, and the built environment.”   We want to reinforce and deepen the approach within the higher education sector, but also place a light on the broader need for “responsible architecture”, innovation, and design.  

 This will require a view of design that equally considers the servant and served space, community, and ecology it is situated within, and the participants most impacted by the decisions being made. We need to understand and consider more thoroughly how participatory and equitable our Charrette and planning processes are as we consider these issues. We need to assess more directly our outcomes for our campuses and communities of this work.  We need to ask if the process had been more transparent and inclusive would we have achieved a better or more integrated design or deepened our intended economic, social, and environmental outcomes. We need to understand more from the interior design team how participation was engendered through the leveraging of materials, space, and objects.

In this context, ARCdI seeks to celebrate and embolden inventive design, equitable participation and consensus building in design processes, responsible architecture, historic and cultural preservation, integrative planning, and sustainable design and materials usage.  At the heart, we want to provide a more focused forum on campus design and innovation focusing on this essence, exploring themes and paying homage to the people, communities, approaches, diverse perspectives, and materials (old and new) of this work.  Our goal is not to replace or interfere with the good organizations already in existence out there supporting planners, architects, sustainability experts, landscape architects, interior designers, facilities professionals, civic engagement professionals, or innovation specialists.  Our goal is to help expand those conversations by placing a particular emphasis on expanding participation, enhancing consensus building in the design and planning process, supporting professionals development, and facilitating practice sharing to enhance the work of campus design, planning professionals, and community stakeholders to enhance and deepen key social, economic, and environmental outcomes.

In traveling around the country over my career, I realize that people, not organizations create structures, partnerships, and communities and the stories and passions extend beyond the structure, classroom, lab, community-campus 3rd spaces, hubs of innovations, furniture, objects, and materials.  The extraordinary designs, innovations, and strategies being put forward need to be shared now more than ever. We need more storytelling!  Architecture, participatory design, and the nexus of campus-community engagement has never been more important in framing the future of higher education in this country or the trajectory of the communities and lives it comes into contact with through its work.   

As founding Executive Director, I am humbled by the volunteers who have agreed to serve on our founding Board of Directors and associates supporting our early ramp up. I am in awe of what I am learning, and I enthusiastically look forward to building this organization, clarifying its services, and governance structures in the coming years with all of you.  

Be on the lookout for our announcements and please go to “Members” link to sign up for our newsletter as we prepare to soft launch our membership application late this year.

In service,

Raymond D. Barclay, MS, PhD, LEED-AP

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1 comment

John Whitney February 19, 2021 - 1:35 pm

This is a tremendous idea! As an architect who has spent my entire career serving as either a university architect or design architect, it is clear to me that a forum like this fills a significant need in our profession. While the quality of planning and design for college campuses has never been higher, the current challenges facing higher education demand an even greater focus on inclusion, resiliency, flexibility, and outside of the box thinking.

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