Sarah Lawrence College will break ground on May 23 for a new 60,000 square foot visual arts center, representing a new vision for the way the visual arts are taught. Designed by Susan Rodriguez of Polshek Partnership Architects, the building will provide the national liberal arts college — renowned for the integration of the performing and creative arts into its academically rigorous curriculum — with a building that can meet the increasing and changing demands for studies in the visual arts and visual culture at Sarah Lawrence.
"The building of the Monika A. and Charles A. Heimbold, Jr. Visual Arts Center comes at a time of increasing impact of visual images in our culture," said Michele Tolela Myers, president of the College.
Sarah Lawrence alumna Nancy Spector, a curator at the Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan, explained that the current state of the visual arts is changing and that it is important to create a building that reflects the interdisciplinary nature of the arts today. "Artists themselves are moving past specific boundaries. Interdisciplinary art is, in essence, the key to our contemporary culture."
Designing the building brought numerous challenges for the architects, some of which were intrinsic to the housing of the visual arts at a college committed to the interdisciplinary approach to teaching. Others included situating a 60,000 square foot contemporary building between smaller 1920s-era Tudor style buildings on a campus located in a quiet residential neighborhood. Questions the architects had to answer included how to create a building that would enable the interdisciplinary teaching of the visual arts, as well as allowing for the one-on-one student-faculty conferencing that is a hallmark of education at Sarah Lawrence, and how to create a building that would bridge a campus divided by a roadway and an historic predominance of buildings on one side.
The building's design includes the integration of technology as a fundamental tool within the arts. A new media soundstage, darkroom, facilities for printmaking, and a visual resources library will be prominent features of the Center. Ateliers, consisting of private work areas, will be clustered around support facilities and may be used interchangeably for sculpture, painting and other media. Large garage-like sliding doors will open to the outside, easily accommodating the movement of large works and allowing an abundance of natural light.
Designed to retain the undulating topography of the campus and to minimize any impact on surrounding buildings and residences, the three-level center will be built into a hill, with the first level partially below ground. A large rooftop terrace with grassy, landscaped areas will help create the illusion of a smaller building. Natural materials - stone, wood, zinc and glass — will reflect the material quality of its adjacent buildings.
With a challenge grant from alumna Josephine A. Merck to create a "green building" and with support from alumna Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman through Newman's Own, the Monika A. and Charles A. Heimbold, Jr. Visual Arts Center has been sited and designed — and will be constructed, operated and maintained — to minimize the impact on the environment, and for the health and well being of its occupants and neighbors. A major focus is careful attention to the environmental impact of wastes and fumes, a problem inherent to materials used in the visual arts. The design calls for recycled and renewable materials - including the rock removed from the ground to situate the building. It also focuses on minimizing water and energy use and includes a geothermal heating and cooling system. The College is committed to meeting the LEED certification requirements created by the U.S. Green Building Council, a national coalition of leaders from the building industry, environmental organizations, building and design professions and others concerned with the adoption of green building practices, technologies, policies, and standards.
The Center will be an important community resource in the visual arts, adding exhibit space and a lecture hall/film viewing theatre that will offer many cultural opportunities open to the public.
The Monika A. and Charles A. Heimbold, Jr. Visual Arts Center is the centerpiece of a $25 million building project that is part of a $75 million campaign: "The Sarah Lawrence Difference. Preserve it. Enrich it."