Q: What excited you about this project? A: This project offered the opportunity to be involved with Salisbury University at a transformative moment in its history and to create a building that is reflective of that moment. Salisbury is a university deeply rooted in its community, but its sphere of influence is rapidly expanding. To create a building that was respectful and proud of Salisbury's history and traditions, yet forward-looking and ambitious was an exciting challenge.
How is it different from other libraries you've worked on? A: Just as no two universities are the same—each one reflective of a unique place and institutional culture—the same is true with libraries. In the case of Salisbury's library, there is an interesting blend of serious academic research and collaborative, collegial, and informal spaces. One can see this in the mix of spaces within the building—a very unique combination ranging from quiet contemplative individual study spaces to an assembly room capable of seating 400 people.
How do you research projects like this? Are libraries changing? A: As a firm, Sasaki has the benefit of working on numerous colleges and universities across the country, ranging in type from small elite liberal arts colleges to major public land grant institutions. We have a good understanding of the issues these institutions are facing, the questions they are asking, and the ideas they are testing. In terms of academic libraries, we find this is a truly exciting moment. After years of existential crisis—will the library be relevant in the age of the internet?—we are finding libraries on campus in a resurgent mode, re-asserting themselves at the heart of the academic experience. The Guerrieri Academic Commons is at the leading edge of this moment.
What were the challenges on this project? A: Frankly, there were many, and that was a good thing. Good design comes out of challenging conditions. In terms of the site, all four sides were uniquely different. For example, to the east, you have Route 13 and the interface with the community. This suggested a certain monumentality—the desire to create a front door and civic presence for the community. However, to the west, where the building fronts Red Square, the situation was very different. A student-centric space far more intimate than the Route 13 side, here we wanted to seek ways to bring the building down in scale and to make it much more informal and approachable.
When you design a building, is it like putting together a puzzle? A: Not really, because a puzzle has only one way you can solve it. With a building, there are many solutions. The trick is to arrive at a solution that has a sense of inevitability—that the building accommodates the program and site, is reflective of the values and mission of the university, and "could not be any other way."
In your design, you worked with a very specific vocabulary: lots of verticals and horizontals; not many curves or diagonals. Was that a design choice? An economic necessity? Both? A: One of the issues the team focused on from a very early phase of the design process was how not to make the building feel too squat and pancake-like on the site. It is a very big building, and we did not want to add too many floors because we wanted the building to feel comfortable and connected on the interior. This left us with the possibility that from the exterior the building might feel low slung and bunker-like. By developing an inter-play of vertical elements—the window proportions, the vertical sun screens and, of course, the carillon tower—this gave the building a more upright, ennobling expression.
Were you inspired by a particular architectural period, for example, mid-century modern? If so, what do you find appealing about that era? A: I have always thought of myself as a bit of an architectural mutt, my work being the result of respect and admiration for a number of eras and movements. This can be seen in the Guerrieri Academic Commons. The brickwork, colonnades and simple proportions of the punched windows is clearly a respectful nod to the rich tradition of the Georgian architecture throughout the region and campus. The way the natural light is scooped up and reflected into the main space is the result of an admiration for the great Finnish architects such as Aalvar Aalto and Juha Leiviska and their ability to create transcendent spaces with natural light. Meanwhile, the entry sequence into the building from Red Square, the way one steps up onto the raised platform, looks into the dramatic main space then turns away from the space only to enter the building and arrive at the main space from a different angle—that is the classic entry sequence into many Shinto gardens and shrines throughout Kyoto, Japan.
There seemed to be careful efforts to make the building contextual with the rest of campus. Would you talk about those choices? A: This was an enormously important issue for Salisbury University and the entire design team. All of us wanted a building that was respectful of the Salisbury campus, yet authentic to its time—a building that speaks of being part of a continuum, respectful of its elders yet extending and expanding the legacy it was given. We spent a lot of time looking very carefully at the campus and its buildings, particularly Holloway Hall. You can see this in the choice of bricks, very much the same blended mix you find on Holloway and other buildings. Likewise, the way Holloway organizes itself on its main façade, with the overall building being brick but the honorific entrance expressed in white—that is the exact same thing we did on the Guerrieri Academic Commons.
Light seems very important in this building. How did that influence design and planning? A: Light, both natural and artificial, is one of the most important elements of a library. People spend long hours in a library and that time is spent much more humanely if one senses a connection with the natural world. We worked hard to ensure that even in a building as large as the Academic Commons, all of the major spaces had views to the outside and spaces infused with natural light. Likewise, one of the wonderful things about libraries, particularly academic libraries, is the way they come alive at night. We were very mindful of creating a dramatic and inspiring beacon.
The Guerrieri Academic Commons is large. What did you do to try to maintain a human scale of proportions in the interior and exterior spaces? A: In addition to the interplay of vertical elements that we discussed earlier, we were very careful to bring the scale of the building down as it met the ground. The colonnades on the east and west sides are an example of this, the way the café is pulled out from the building almost as a freestanding kiosk is another. Careful attention was also paid to the landscape and plaza areas that wrap the building, creating spaces and places for students and faculty to linger.
Designing a building for use by students and scholars may be different from designing a commercial or governmental project. How do students impact the design process? A: This building is for the students and faculty of Salisbury, and if they do not find it a useful and inspiring extension of their academic life, we have failed in our mission. We listened very carefully to students, faculty and administrators during the design process, and the building is the result of their comments and observations. For example, students and faculty will find a wide variety of study spaces scattered throughout the building, from quiet individual spaces in tucked-away corners to see-and-be-seen spaces filled with areas for groups of students to meet and work together.
Were you involved in the color choices or interior selections? If so, what was the guiding design philosophy there? A: The design team, particularly Jen Imbaro, worked very closely with the Salisbury team to create an interior that was attuned to the unique sense of place that is the Eastern Shore. Bea Hardy was very helpful in bringing to our attention a number of artists and painters whose work expresses the colors and textures of the Eastern Shore. Those colors and textures, and the unique quality of light are what we tried to convey in the interior.
Was the building on a tight construction schedule? How did that influence the design process? A: All things being equal, the design schedule for the Guerrieri Academic Commons was a bit more aggressive than the team is used to. One always wishes to have more time in the design phases. Design is an iterative process and time is your biggest enemy. At the same time, the aggressive schedule focused our efforts and kept us from wandering too far afield.
What are you happiest about in the building? A: I am happy about many things, but most happy about how a large team of people—the University of Maryland Facilities Management group; the students, faculty and administrators of Salisbury University; our teammates at Ayers Saint Gross and Gilbane Construction, and the many sub-contractors who poured their hearts and souls into the building—worked together to create a building that will be at the heart of the academic experience and inspiring students at Salisbury University for many generations to come.
Click here to see photos of the opening festivities.
Strategically located at the core of the campus, Salisbury University's new Patricia R. Guerrieri Academic Commons significantly transforms how teaching and learning occurs on campus. The new building...