The Arts Plaza at Lafayette College is a raw, open-air space for the arts. This distinctive space was envisioned as an outdoor black box that can host a wide array of planned and spontaneous artistic endeavors, including performance art, visual art exhibits, and small-group musical performances. The structure actually transforms an abandoned building as it responds to the built and natural environment of which it is part.
The architects deconstructed the existing building by removing the front and rear (west and east) facades and leaving the central timber truss and steel columns in place to define the performance and exhibit space. On the west side, a new construct of steel frame projections and brick monoliths respond to the rhythm, scale, and proportions of the existing urban context. The projections echo the second-story bay windows that characterize the historic architecture to the north; their scale and proportion respond to the mass and void of arts center building to the south. These projections incorporate a stainless steel mesh to define the space yet provide a sense of transparency and lightness to the streetscape. Existing masonry perimeter walls were left in place on the north side and reconstructed on the south to provide a gentle sense of enclosure. New masonry piers composed of clinker brick were constructed to connect the Plaza to the neighboring arts center, which was also designed by the architect.
The Arts Plaza was built as an urban infill project on the same slab as the existing building that actually spanned the Bushkill Creek, a beloved natural element within the city. While the old building’s solid walls proved an effective barrier between the creek’s environment and the community, the new Arts Plaza literally deconstructs these barriers to connect people and nature. The east wall of the existing building was completely removed to allow views to the water from within the Plaza. The transparency of the west wall further opens the creek views to pedestrians passing by on the sidewalk. To further connect the built space to the natural environment, an oculus was cut into the existing floor and amplifies the sounds of the creek flowing below.