DiMella Shaffer Fitchburg State University campus

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Landscape and architectural planners A.T. Leonard & Associates created a design that complemented DiMella Shaffer’s architecture at Fitchburg State. “The glass tower needed a large plaza to ground the structure and provide a scaled perspective to appreciate the architectural detail,” says principal Andrew T. Leonard.

New Student Center Becomes School Centerpiece

Tuesday, July 30th, 2013

By Ann Chou
Photos by Robert Benson Photography

Just over the hill on the Fitchburg State University campus, a newly renovated student center has given the small Massachusetts school a fresh perspective. Once a disorienting eyesore, the new Hammond Campus Center by Boston-based architecture firm DiMella Shaffer is now the centerpiece of the university.

Before the redesign, the building looked more like a drab office space than a student center. With its rust-colored brick, dark ribbon windows and hard-to-find main entrance, the building was not inviting to the students or the passersby on the main road that connected the university to downtown. But perhaps the biggest problem was that the back of the building was two stories higher than the basement floor and its central stairs were enclosed in concrete cylinders, making wayfinding challenging for students. “This project was about identity and clarity,” DiMella Shaffer principal Ed Hodges says. “The school needed a bold statement that would reorient the campus to the city and solve all the accessibility and system-level issues relating to the building.”

Hodges and his team had a solution, and it began with semantics. “We literally changed the name of the floor from the ‘basement floor’ to the ‘street level,’” project manager Alex Adkins says. The firm then redesigned the building, proposing a sleek glass tower and cascading open stairway to link the two entrances. The new glass stairway now physically and visually connects the two entrances. The tower stands as a welcoming beacon to the student body and larger community alike, who can now see each other from both sides of the glass window walls. “You can see how proud the students are,” Hodges says. “One student even said that he felt like he was going to an Ivy League school.”

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