Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Over the summer, Swarthmore dormitories David Kemp and Alice Paul were selected as one of the 18 winners in the American Institute of Architects’ 2010 Housing Awards. Recognized for its “exemplary residential design”, DKAP stood out in this national competition for its environmental sustainability and for its distinct features that both complement and accentuate the rest of Swarthmore’s campus.
The American Institute of Architects (AIA), a national professional association of architects, established these annual housing awards programs in 2000 to “recognize the best in housing design” and to “promote the importance of good housing.” Swarthmore’s DKAP was recognized in the special housing category, which included half houses, monasteries, shelters of various purposes, dormitories, and other special housing buildings. According to Andrew Porth, the chair of the AIA 2010 Housing Awards jury, the category is very competitive; only around 10% of entrants are singled out for awards.
DKAP stood out in its category for simultaneously complementing the aesthetics of the campus and including details conducive to residential life. In an email, Porth elaborated, “The jury loved the fact that the building worked very well on an urban scale as a key part of a campus plan; and at a micro scale, with exquisite stone detailing that responded sensitively to the campus’s older collegiate vernacular buildings.”
Indeed, William Rawn Associates, the architect firm that Swarthmore hired to design DKAP, worked to incorporated unique aesthetic features of Swarthmore’s campus into the architecture of DKAP.
During the preliminary phases of building the new dorms, Bill Rawn and Cliff Gayley, the principal architects for DKAP, worked closely with students, faculty, and staff on a variety of decisions; for example, determining such details as the optimum corridor width and the location of the dorm itself.
Stu Hain, Vice President of Facilities and Services and project manager for the construction of DKAP, explained, “There was a lot of work done with the architects, students, and deans on how many rooms would be on the floor, the kind of special rooms for students with special needs, how wide the corridors would be, and other considerations that were all included in the design.” For instance, the students on the DKAP committee took the architects for a midnight dorm tour during which they walked through every on-campus dorm to figure out details such as ideal hall size.
The deans also had specific requests for the interiors of the dorms. Dean Westphal, one of the members on the special new dorm committee, mentioned that the school wanted a wide corridor, natural light, nooks, and an open courtyard. In addition, the administration wanted a lounge expansive enough to hold all 150 residents as well as additional, smaller lounges to facilitate hall life.
From these requests, William Rawn Associates structured the interior of DKAP to encourage hall interaction and to promote residential life. One of the main criteria for the AIA Housing Awards was how the building met the specific needs of the client as well as the housing situation itself; Porth noted, “The interior spaces seemed to be very livable and conducive to socializing.”
From her personal experience, Nell Bang-Jensen ’11, Resident Assistant of AP 2nd , explains, “I like that the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd floor lounges all have different feelings and uses…the lounges have been a great place for people to gather and do homework together, party, or just hang out on a Friday night with a few friends.”
As for the exterior design of the dorms, Bill Rawn and Cliff Gayley examined different buildings on campus and drew inspiration from them. “The design of a building comes from a deliberate process of learning from the traditions of the school,” Gayley said. “We opened our design minds as much as possible to the sensibilities of Swarthmore; students, faculty and administration, and the spirit of the campus.”
For Rawn and Gayley, three major architectural features stood out on campus and they worked to include those concepts when they designed the exterior of DKAP. One major design feature of DKAP is the stone quartz that covers the outside. These architects noticed that many Swarthmore buildings incorporated stone exteriors. Cliff mentions, “The stone holds the campus together in a way that allows each building to have its own personality and characteristics; we worked within this stone vocabulary, but tried to stretch it a bit.”
Inspired by the architecture of a public bathhouse in Switzerland, the architects ordered stone for DKAP from Vals, a town in Switzerland. According to Hain, there were no local quarries that had the cutting capability that they desired. Having the stone cut and shipped to Swarthmore was also more cost-effective.
In the beginning, there was a bit of hesitation on the stone aspect of the building. According to Dean Westphal, “The stone was a much wider palette of color on the other dorm buildings. It was mostly black, white and grey and the stone has a really different feel. It is more connected to the Kohlberg building that has the smooth polished marble in the lower levels.”
After construction, though, the stone in DKAP stood out for these very qualities and helped DKAP to attain its recent award recognition. Indeed, according to Cliff, the stone gave rise to “a taut, elemental minimalist building that we would hope echoes the minimalist values of a Quaker tradition, about being understated but direct.”
Another attractive feature was the metaphor of DKAP as a beacon at the end of Parrish Beach. Since the buildings would be on the bottom of campus, the architects thought of the red illuminated lounges as “a warm beacon to draw people to DKAP,” according to Westphal. Bang-Jensen echoes this sentiment: “Personally, I love the bright red color in the lounge, which makes AP a lively and welcoming home to return to at night.”
The last idea that Gayley emphasized was Swarthmore’s pattern of three-sided open spaces in many of the dormitory buildings, such as Mertz and Wharton. According to Gayley, DKAP was structured like many of the other dorms where there was a well-defined, spacious courtyard area directly open to the Parrish lawn.
Overall, the interior and exterior features of these dormitories combine to create a cohesive building that promotes hall life within and campus beauty from the outside. While Swarthmore is often recognized for its academics and its intellectual student body, it is always a pleasant surprise to be nationally recognized for something that we often take for granted, such as the architecture of our dorms.