As 2016 began, Vassar opened the new Bridge for Laboratory Sciences. An innovative 82,000–square-foot building for instruction and research in multiple fields, it also serves as the new home of the Chemistry Department. The edifice is a Bridge, both literally and metaphorically. The Bridge’s classrooms, support spaces, multidisciplinary laboratories, and program suites are designed to foster collaboration across the science curriculum.
Integrated science is in the very DNA of the Bridge for Laboratory Sciences. The structure of the building, designed by Ennead Architects, literally dovetails with the Olmsted Hall of Biological Sciences, with passages between the two built on multiple levels to encourage the flow of people and ideas. The Bridge’s Earth and Environmental Sciences Lab is designed to facilitate teaching and research in Biology, Chemistry, and Earth Science. And Vassar’s Interdisciplinary Robotics Research Laboratory now has a permanent home in the Bridge. Initiated in 2003, this first-of-its-kind program at a liberal arts college encourages collaboration between professors in Biology, Cognitive Science, and Computer Science.
Making the Connection
As I toured the Bridge for Laboratory Sciences in early May, I was struck by the literal and figurative representations embodied in Vassar’s newest building.Read full story
Innovations abound throughout the new building. There are two types of “bird-friendly” glass on its exterior, making the Bridge building one of the world’s most advanced for minimizing bird collisions (its wetland location is the habitat for an extensive avian population). The exterior features the first application in the U.S. of Ornilux glass, which has an embedded coating and pattern that is highly visible to birds and nearly invisible to humans. There is also a system that collects rainwater and snowmelt from the roof and supplies it to the nearby Olmsted Hall greenhouse. Given these and other “green” features, Vassar has applied for the Bridge to earn LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Silver certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.
A variety of “green features” is expected to earn the Bridge LEED Silver certification.
The building was expressly designed as a bridge, providing direct access between the central campus and points south such as Skinner Hall and the Vassar Farm and Ecological Preserve, and spanning the Fonteyn Kill wetland to minimize its impact on that ecosystem. At the same time, the lowest level provides easy walking access to the wetland for field study, and adjacent facilities provide opportunities for environmental analysis. The Bridge also serves as a gathering place, with people congregating at a new café and a sizable patio which has striking views of the landscape.
The opening of the Bridge marks the completion of the College’s larger effort — nearly a decade in the realization — to bring Vassar’s science facilities in line with its forward-thinking science curriculum. During the Bridge’s construction, major renovations also were completed to New England Building, Olmsted Hall, and Sanders Physics. Together with the Bridge for Laboratory Sciences, these buildings now serve as home for six academic departments and three programs. By bringing their faculty, facilities, and students into closer proximity, Vassar has created a forward-thinking collaborative nexus. In that spirit, the entire new campus hub has been named the Integrated Science Commons.
A Building in the Trees
Though there may have been rumblings about a building like the Bridge for Laboratory Sciences for years, planning for the structure, designed by Richard Olcott of Ennead Architects, formally began in 2007. Nine years later, Ennead has fulfilled its goal of producing for students and faculty a building that is transforming research, teaching, and learning in the sciences. We spoke with Olcott and Kate Mann, associate partner at Ennead, who contributed to the design of the building, about the considerations that went into the creation of the Bridge.Read full story