Colgate University is renowned not only for its academic credentials—a so-called Little Ivy, it’s one of the most selective liberal arts institutions in the country—but also for the beauty of its campus, which is set on 575 hillside acres that feature groves of trees and a lake.
Founded in the small town of Hamilton in central New York in 1819, Colgate enrolls only 3,000 students, most of them undergraduates, on a campus first created by Ernest W. Bowditch in 1891 through 1893 based on earlier recommendations by Frederick Law Olmsted.
The university, under the leadership of President Brian W. Casey, called on New York City-based Robert A.M. Stern Architects to design additional residential housing for first- and second-year students, as well as Benton Hall, the university’s Center for Career Services, which opened in 2018 (Traditional Building, September 2020).
Colgate also commissioned a vision plan from RAMSA, which is now preparing designs for renovations and additions to a science building, for the new Benton Center for Creativity and Innovation and for new residences for third- and fourth-year students.
Taken together, the projects constitute “an act of campus-making,” says Graham S. Wyatt, FAIA, a partner and studio leader for most of the firm’s academic work.
“Colgate’s much-loved president, Brian Casey, who’s extraordinary in many ways, is extremely focused on the physical quality of his campus,” says Wyatt. “Throughout the pandemic, Brian has been outspoken about the importance of the on-campus experience, in particular the social aspects of the student residential experience, and his leadership enabled us to carry out this important work.”
Providing beds for 208 students in an appropriately scaled pair of 39,550-square-foot buildings, rather than a single megastructure, Jane Pinchin and Burke Halls are set into a prominent slope, defining a new south-facing residential quad together with Andrews Hall, which dates to 1923.
This approach respects the two-century-old campus plan and its traditional architectural vernacular while establishing a new standard for responsible growth.
“We focused on designing the right kind of residences for first- and second-year students, whose needs are different from those in their third and fourth years,” Wyatt says.
In keeping with the university’s “residential commons” organization, which calls for communal spaces that serve as anchors for campus life, the buildings’ ground-floor lobbies access shared seminar and study rooms.
One floor above are faculty advisor suites, communal kitchens, and student lounges that open to granite-paved patios at either end of the new quadrangle, while a faculty apartment offers a quieter portico to the south. The upper three floors—the fifth expressed as a dormered attic—provide student rooms, primarily doubles with some singles for community leaders.
The two new buildings, which Preston J. Gumberich, AIA, the partner who led the project with Wyatt, calls “fraternal twins,” take their simple and spare architectural cues from a pair of historic buildings—West Hall, the campus’ first building, which was erected in 1827 by students and faculty members from stones from Colgate’s own rock quarry, since closed, and its twin, East Hall, built in 1834.
“East and West Halls are simple foursquare buildings with local bluestone facades and pitched roofs, classically inspired but with a powerful simplicity,” Wyatt says. “We wanted the new residence halls to complement that character, rather than to stand at odds with it.”
The new buildings are clad in a split-face bluestone ashlar that is nearly an exact match to that of the campus’s historic structures. The stone selected, Llenroc, is a mix of a blue-gray and rust colors that has excellent academic credentials—its name, Cornell spelled backward, references the stone traditionally used on that university’s campus.
Jane Pinchin and Burke Halls are sparingly decorated with cast-stone copings, stringcourses, cornices, and trim and feature thermally broken aluminum windows with low-E insulated glass, granite water tables, and variegated slate-shingled roofs topped by fiberglass cupolas with copper roofs.
By proposing two halls instead of one, the RAMSA team was able to ensure their compatibility with the scale of the other buildings in the historic core of the campus. “This was a very early strategic decision,” Wyatt says, “because it allowed us to create the outdoor quad.”
The buildings are partially set into the slope and positioned so that the short facades and the main entrances within them face the historic part of the campus to visually reduce their apparent size.
“The new quadrangle is centered on an elliptical lawn the ends of which engage the east and west patios that are open-air extensions of the indoor social lounges,” Gumberich says. “The lawn’s perimeter is planted with an allee of buckeye trees that flower early in spring when students and faculty are still on campus to enjoy their beauty.”
The student rooms, some of which are tucked beneath the roofs’ dormers, are, by design, spartan to encourage students to spend time together in the communal spaces yet are playful in character and are among the most sought after because of the panoramic views of the campus they command.
Although Jane Pinchin and Burke Halls complement each other, subtle differences give each its individual character.
“We designed each residence hall with its own uniquely ornamental cupola—which truly functions as part of the mechanical exhaust system—and two-story cast-stone entryway to add a subtle note of individuality although the two are otherwise quite similar,” Gumberich says, adding that the idea of illuminating the cupolas was proposed by Casey, who wanted them to enter into a dialogue with the five other illuminated cupolas that sit atop legacy buildings on the campus.
Wyatt notes that Colgate has “a tradition of buildings with cupolas or spires,” and the new halls “carry forward the idea of the variety in cupolas that defines the Colgate skyline.”
The halls, which are LEED Gold-certified, exemplify the university’s early and ongoing commitment to sustainability and carbon neutrality, a stance that garnered it a ranking on Princeton Review’s 2021 Green Honor Roll—a commitment that RAMSA shares as a firm.
“We went one step further, designing them to near Passive House standards,” Wyatt says. “Their high-quality envelopes are extremely energy-efficient.”
Indeed, giant monitors in all of Colgate’s residence halls display energy use in real time, turning conservation into a competition.
Even before Jane Pinchin and Burke Halls officially opened, they were the subject of much campus buzz as students and faculty followed the progress of the construction.
“The incoming students, who had already seen these under construction during their initial campus tours, were very impressed and excited to potentially be the very first occupants of these new residence halls—the first ones built on campus in over a quarter-century,” Gumberich says. “But, as it turned out, before the buildings were officially turned over to the students, the alumni got to test-drive the facilities first during a reunion weekend sleepover and the unanimous response was a simple ‘Wow!’”