The Yale Art and Architecture Building may be the best known work by noted Brutalist pioneer Paul Rudolph, but his sprawling 1.5-million-square-foot campus for the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth has received renewed attention in recent years. Hired by the university in 2007, Boston-based designLAB architects spent six years renovating and extending the campus’s innovative centerpiece, the Clare T. Carney library. After receiving an AIA honor award this year, the firm’s architects Sam Batchelor and Ben Youtz reflected on the tools and ideas that helped them revive Rudolph’s phenomenal work.
All photography by Jonathan Hillyer
“We weren’t necessarily huge Rudolph enthusiasts or aficionados when we started the project,” admits Batchelor, “but we came to really appreciate what he had done.” In order to turn that appreciation into a new state-of-the-art learning center and improved hub for the campus, the designLAB team dove deep into research, scouring old Rudolph interviews and digging up original interior textiles. In those materials, the team found one of the main components to revive Rudolph’s original design: color.
“People don’t necessarily associate Brutalism with bright colors, but it was actually central to the movement with color theory and integration with art. It’s something that’s been lost over time,” says Youtz. Indeed, gray had replaced the bright hues Rudolph intended, so Youtz developed a new complex color theory to reintroduce the lost accents. “We also added a material foreign to the building, but not to Rudolph,” he says. Rich walnut, reminiscent of the architect’s modernist Florida homes, was used to bring in a brighter palette, connecting the library’s heavy concrete with the brand new addition.
While colors and new materials helped revive the interior, the building’s striking exterior served as both inspiration and challenge. “The whole campus is one utopian vision that emerged out of cornfields,” says Youtz, “so it’s pretty dramatic in that sense.” The library also creates drama with its cantilevered projections. “It’s very sculptural, volumetric and expressive in its form-making. The limitations of cast-in-place concrete were really being pushed.”
The other drama created by the cantilevered elements was fitting new ideas into the unusual spaces they created. “We were trying to fit a space in a footprint that didn’t work very well,” explains Youtz about the new grand reading room they wanted to create in line with Rudolph’s vision. “We proposed changing the existing envelope of this particular corner and expanding it proportionally.” Before they went ahead with the change however, they consulted the late Granton Hill, the architect who worked with Rudolph and took over the project when he was fired over a ballooning budget.
“Granton teased us quite a bit that we were trying to tame Rudolph. But he agreed with us.” says Youtz. For Batchleor, Granton’s input changed his entire perspective on the project: “Normally when you’re working with an artifact it becomes so sacrosanct. Working with Granton we realized that it was an experiment. It made the whole thing more fluid in our minds.” Even with this invaluable input, however, bringing these new experiments to life was no easy task. To try and tame Rudolph’s artifact, they relied on the ARCHICAD BIM software available from GRAPHISOFT.
“Being able to three-dimensionally model all of the complex geometries of the building was hugely helpful,” says Youtz, who found that the program helped them to more easily modify such an envelope. “I just scratch my head thinking about how people in the late ’50s completely relied on 2D drawings. It blows my mind that they could do that. I don’t know how we would have been able to understand all of the geometries, conditions and cantilevers of the existing building without ARCHICAD.”
DesignLAB has been running the software since the firm’s founding in 2005, and both Batchelor and Youtz refer to themselves as ARCHICAD stalwarts, finding it effective and useful in all aspects of BIM modeling. “For a small practice where you sometimes need to model your own structural and mechanical, it’s more flexible and you get more control in creating an integrated set of drawings,” says Batchelor. He has seen the program help them to keep smaller scale projects in-house, lowering costs and improving communication across teams.
At the same time, ARCHICAD’s IFC files and open BIM commitments have helped them to better coordinate with outside consultants and other collaborators — an important step in efficiently taking on large-scale projects like the Carney Library. “GRAPHISOFT has made vast improvements in ARCHICAD’s handling of interoperability and exchanging models across platforms,” says Youtz. “IFC works really well for consultants where we can bring in an engineer’s structural model, or a mechanical model.”
On the exterior of the building as well, ARCHICAD helped them to finalize a vertical steel sunshade for the new addition. “We were able to do some sun studies and create a model to really understand at a detailed level the quality of light that would be able to filter through,” says Youtz. To him, these accurate and agile models helped the project team to expertly address every detail of the Carney, like bringing specific light and color back to the library — it’s a process he found truly invaluable.