Unified Science Center

Swarthmore College

Swarthmore, PA

STEM Higher Education

exterior view of building

The outdated science facilities needed more than a renovation and additional space; the departments required new technology and a multi-disciplinary teaching environment. By transforming isolated departments into a social and intellectual gathering place for the entire campus, we created a true unified science center. The individual science buildings and library are now interconnected through a series of laboratory blocks, lecture halls, study areas, and courtyards. Located at the center of the complex is a commons with inviting transparent walls and a "butterfly"-shaped roof.

The center is placed at the north end of the campus to form the fourth edge of the academic quadrangle. The new forms wrap around the existing buildings to link the existing individual science buildings and library. A series of interconnected gardens between the existing and new masses provide views, light, and air into all parts of the building and lead out to the wooded preserve north and west of the site.

To respect the scale of the campus, the new center is broken down into separate masses linked with a series of special connector elements. The heights are kept low at two and three stories, with a sunken garden that spills out into the woods allowing views over the new building to the woods. Local schist stone laid in an ashlar pattern ties the building into the fabric of the campus, while modern forms and detailing are employed throughout the new building. The connector elements share details to link together the large building while breaking down the scale: hovering butterfly-shaped roofs supported on a single line of columns; standing seam metal cladding; and concrete pylons. Two larger lecture halls, clad in local schist stone and rotated at 12 and 18 degrees, reinforce the turning at the corner of the quad and contrast with the rectilinear lab buildings that are sheathed in abstract patterns of honed granite façade panels.

Building Facts

  • 69,000 GSF new construction
  • 80,000 GSF renovation
  • LEED Certified

Awards & Honors

  1. Design Excellence Honor Award

    Boston Society of Architects

  2. Design Award - Merit Award

    AIA New York State

  3. Educational Facility Design Award - Merit Award

    Boston Society of Architects/SCUP

  4. Sustainable Design Award - Citation

    Boston Society of Architects/AIA

  5. Tucker Architectural Award

    Building Stone Institute

View of outdoor classroom

Keeping it Green

Sustainability was a driving factor from conceptual design through implementation. Consistent with their commitment to teaching social responsibility, the College encouraged the design team to make visible sustainability the muse of the design. A Green Team was formed to guide the creation and implementation of a green master plan, resulting in a LEED certification, one of the first lab buildings to qualify at this level.

The green strategy includes many features such as a zero runoff environment to protect the adjacent woods from erosion by harvesting rainwater in the huge, iconic V-shaped roofs, directing water back into the earth through waterfalls, stone water channels, re-absorption pools, and infiltration beds with excess stored underground for irrigation.

Rather than demolish and replace the outdated wet lab buildings, the design reuses the space for "dry" labs for physics and astronomy, math and statistics, and computer science. Local and recycled materials are featured throughout the building, and gauges illustrating current utilization of energy and other utilities are a focal point in the snack bar area.

The science center also pioneered the use of fritted glass for curtainwall glazing to prevent bird collision – an important innovation that has received worldwide media coverage as a model for sustainable design, including the sustainable design guidelines for the World Trade Center site in Lower Manhattan. 

Resource Efficiency

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