Students Turn Their Design Focus onto Chaplin Hall

Students Turn Their Design Focus onto Chaplin Hall

By Matthew Lutz, Professor of Architecture, School of Architecture + Art

This year’s annual School of Architecture + Art Design Charrette took a new approach by focusing on ways to improve its home: Chaplin Hall. The charrette was organized and administrated by the newly formed, student-led, Chaplin Hall Building Committee (CHBC). Committee leaders challenged their fellow students to identify and address issues in Chaplin Hall that could improve day-to-day usability of the spaces and improve space planning. The CHBC not only saw the charrette as an opportunity to improve Chaplin Hall, but as an opportunity to get the student body (aspiring architects!) invested in the space in which they spend so much of their time.

The challenge focused on the design studio spaces on each floor in Chaplin Hall, and was aimed specifically toward improving storage space and fostering the kind of collaborative environment found in professional architecture studios.

Combining a student or two from each year level into a single group formed 10 teams. Teams were advised by an architecture graduate student and assigned a particular studio space to concentrate their efforts. Jesse Gillette, a thesis advisor and CHBC leader said: “The charrette was a great way for the school to come together and recognize how we, as architects, need to take responsibility for the spaces we occupy. We’re the ones responsible for setting an example of how to care for our school.”

Working on a tight schedule, the teams developed shop-drawings, renderings, a budget, and a construction schedule for the work they proposed. Designs ranged from radical to restrained, but each was uniquely appropriate and worked within the design constraints set forth by the CHBC.

Guest jurors for the charrette were Norwich University Chief Administrative Officer David Magida and Norwich University Director of Facilities Operations Bizhan Yahyazadeh. Magida, who has been involved with the annual charrette for years, appreciated the level of consideration given to the design problem and said: “I’ve been extremely impressed by how serious the entire school takes this process and by the creativity the students show. We have ‘borrowed’ some of the students’ good thinking and used their ideas on campus.”  

Ultimately, jurors chose ideas from many designs presented and asked student teams to work together to organize and consolidate these ideas into themes. These main themes resulted in: 1) the design for a series of mobile storage / work surfaces that could double as meeting tables, 2) strategically placed ‘super-graphics’ that convey architectural rules-of-thumb, 3) moveable pin-up / partition walls for gathering around, and 4) a reconfigurable shelving system for the second and fourth floors.

Final design concepts are currently being refined and will be implemented within the next few weeks. The new design maneuvers seen in Chaplin Hall in the near future will radically change how the student body operates in the design studio, and will significantly improve the collaborative atmosphere in the School of Architecture and Art.