The University of Massachusetts has recently experienced a building boom. Over the last fifteen years, the red brick and brutalist concrete campus has made way for a series of new contextual buildings with an emphasis on energy efficiency. One of the first to herald this new trend was Gordon Hall. The site is located between a 1950s brick church and a narrow vacant lot. The program for the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) and the Department of Economics at the University required a series of offices for faculty and graduate students, conference rooms and flexible spaces for special events such as lectures and receptions.
The building houses repetitive office spaces in two shed-like forms. They recall the long simple forms of the tobacco barns. These two wings angle into the site and unite at a vertex forming the triangulated atrium and small kitchen. The V-shaped atrium space is lit by a translucent skylight supported by exposed sloping steel beams. On the exterior gray ground face concrete block forms a plinth for the structure. Vertical cedar siding stained in a deep red clads the wings. The siding is rhythmically divided by narrow battens above and below the windows. These add texture to the the wall surface and echo a board and batten building tradition in New England. A key objective in the design scheme was to follow the contours of the existing topography. This resulted in a ground floor located below the main entry level allowing the building to step down the site.
On the interior, the elliptical volume of the conference rooms in the foyer punctuates the street side of the atrium. The placement of this space within a space also achieves a level of privacy from the street. The office-lined corridors have views into the atrium through operable windows that can be opened for cross ventilation or closed for acoustical purposes. High clerestory windows on the south side of the atrium can be opened automatically on summer days. In winter the atrium is warmed with radiant floor heating.
The nuances of site and context acted as a springboard for the building design. Non-institutional materials and colors create a building that is synchronized with its surroundings, adding character to its context with angular drama.