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Monday, September 13, 2010

Two Projects by Ann Beha Architects

Quotes come from an Building of the Week feature on the Penn Music Building. Photographs of Penn Music Building by David Lamb; photographs of Diana Chapman Walsh Alumnae Hall by Peter Vanderwalker.

Two recent upper educational projects by Boston's Ann Beha Architects highlight the two predominant approaches to dealing with new interventions inside and beside historic buildings. The Music Building at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia creates "a dialogue between old and new," while the renovation and restoration of the Diana Chapman Walsh Alumnae Hall at Wellesley College in Wellesley, Massachusetts blurs the distinction between old and new.

Penn's Music Building roughly doubles the existing square footage, basically twinning the old building to create a new whole. The architects analyzed "the [existing] fa├žade and massing organization, setting datum lines, proportions, heights and configurations, as a framework for the exterior design expression." Where the existing is red brick, the new is a terra cotta rainscreen with horizontal fins and full-height windows, the three working together to give the impression of punched openings. A shift in the rainscreen's surface relates to the existing building's subtle differentiation between the lower and upper floors. Lastly a projecting cornice corresponds with the line of the old roof, but its wrapping down the sides is clearly contemporary.

Inside the Penn Music Building, the difference between old and new is sharper, because the former is left exposed. Therefore red brick is countered by smooth concrete, painted drywall, and hung ceilings. The new spaces are driven by acoustical demands more than any need to relate to its neighbor. Inside the Alumnae Hall at Wellesley, on the other hand, the difference between old and new is basically non-existent, as the new services the old in preserving its inherent qualities. The architects were tasked with bringing the building to code, improving its assembly spaces for viewing and listening, and inserting new programming.

In the process old layers were discovered and were then brought to light, such as murals and windows. So differences between old and new may be slight and hard to distinguish, but the result is certainly brighter and more open, the latter both in terms of accessibility and the effects of new surfaces like mirrors.

It's clear that each approach by Beha is appropriate: Penn's old building does not require a literal twin, but a new mate that "speaks" with it and respects it; Wellesly is a minimal renovation that expresses itself as subtly on the exterior (image at left) as it does inside.

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