Bryn Athyn, PA | 38,784 SF | LEED NC Gold Certified | Award of Merit, Pennsylvania AIA

The Grant R. Doering Center for Science & Research is a three-story, 39,000 SF facility supporting the departments of Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and Environmental Sciences at Bryn Athyn College. The building is carefully sited in an axial relationship with the new student center (also designed by the architect) across a main quadrangle on campus. Its plan is organized in a “U” shape with east and west wings wrapping around and enclosing a courtyard and entry plaza on the north side.

The Doering Center’s exterior design respects the proportions and scale of the existing campus buildings. Its stone and brick details draw from the rich architectural history of the college and the architectural vernacular of the surrounding early-20th-Century Philadelphia suburbs in which. The inspiration for the design came, appropriately enough, from the natural world: it mimics a geode, a rock formation characterized by a rough stone exterior and crystalline interior. Three sides of the building's exterior (the east, south and west facades) are composed of rubble stone with repeating brick details. On the north side, embraced by the east and west wings, the facade is a glass curtain wall that draws one into the building with dynamic views of the interior.

The glass curtain wall is punctuated by a slate-clad vestibule, a transition point between outside and inside. There, the slate used on the roof and first floor. At the vestibule, the irregular coursing of the stone evokes the stonework of nearby Bryn Athyn Cathedral, a local landmark with visual and theological connections to the College. The slate rain screen is attached using a mortarless spring and clip system, an economical technique that demonstrates how a traditional building material such as slate can be truly timeless in its application. This system is exposed and expressed, a design decision that allows a visitor to see the building's constrution and function. Many other details, such as the elevator mechanics, plumbing valves and HVAC piping are similarly expressed. This strategy also provides easy access for maintenance staff, reducing operational costs over the life of the building.

After passing through the vestibule one enters a three-story atrium that is the heart of the Center. Here, the transparency that one experiences from outside continues inside. The atrium and central vertical stair, with their transparent glazing, physically and visually connect all three floors of the building. The atrium and stair are solid and shimmering – dynamically reflecting light and activity as the sun and students move through the space. The interior wood finishes add warmth, an effect that becomes particularly apparent at night when the building is illuminated from within.The glass walls of the atrium provide views into the offices, classrooms, and laboratories.

These program spaces are thoughtfully organized along a single-loaded hallway so that occupants have direct views not only into the daylight filled atrium but also through it to the natural world beyond the building’s walls. Fume hoods are purposefully located along the interior common walls to preserve views out and maintain the transparency. Even the placing of the chemical prep rooms, a difficult program element due to the functional nature of the space, is transformed into an opportunity by being strategically located between two labs. When privacy or darkness as opposed to transparency is desired, cherry wood-clad whiteboards can slide over the glass, a functional element that makes for a dynamic, ever-changing view inside and out.

“The architects did a wonderful job in creating a facility that meets the teaching pedagogy of Bryn Athyn College and compliments the rich architectural history of the community. The LEED Gold design is clearly organized and welcoming, which exploits the functional requirements of teaching and office spaces and heightens the user experience through visual and physical connectivity to the campus. The history of our institution is very important to us. We care about architecture, as evidenced by the fact that two of our buildings are part of a National Landmark district. Our architects embraced our history and culture to create a meaningful structure that does not rely on historic copy or stylistic expression. The building will significantly contribute to our growth objectives.”
Director of Facilities Construction, Bryn Athyn College