The State University of New York at New Paltz needed to expand its current Student Union Building by providing a University Commons, the grand living room for the University, increase its meeting and presentation rooms, add a game and recreation center and expand its food court. This expansion, location at the gateway to the university, was to transform the image of the university from a non-site specific functional state institution to a unique and recognizable image for SUNY New Paltz.
Inspired by unique regional landscape of the Catskill mountains of New York State, where this campus is located, the expansion to the student union is a crystalline palisade whose form and surface recall the tectonic character of the Shawangunk mountain ridge of the Catskill which is located just beyond the site. Set between two existing concrete brutalist buildings, the glass expansion provides an illuminated gateway to the campus and an iconic character that is uniquely related to the university's location in New York State while being respectful of the mid-20th century concrete brutalist structures adjacent to the expansion. The design carefully details the connection to the existing buildings and utilizes these buildings as background. In order to make the campus commons a flexible column-free space, we created a structural stress skin that is the expressed character of the living room for the New Paltz community. This student centered space provides a place for students to gather, study, play and work collaboratively. It is a place to see and be seen. Additionally, the building is designed for a LEED Silver certification. Sustainable design elements include radiant heating and cooling; photo-optic lighting controls and natural day lighting and views. The project met the clients objectives by providing a memorable image to the university at its front door, meeting the clients budget of construction and meeting the schedule to be open for student use by Fall 2010.