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Intelligent Design

Across the campus, the plastic sheathing that protected construction sites from winter is coming down. As it does, members of the community are getting their first looks at a range of almost-completed facilities projects.

Nancy Kepes Jeton '76 and President James Wright
Nancy Kepes Jeton '76 (left), chair of the Board of Trustees Committee on Master Plan and Facilities, and President James Wright review progress on the McLaughlin Residential Cluster. (Photo by Joseph Mehling '69)

To the north and west are the McLaughlin and Tuck Mall residential clusters, soon to be home for about 500 students. At the end of Tuck Mall is the MacLean Engineering Sciences Center, a major addition to the Thayer School of Engineering. Just north of Baker-Berry Library are Kemeny Hall and the Haldeman Center, connected buildings that will be home to the mathematics department and the College's multidisciplinary institutes. To the east, a renovation of the 95-year-old Alumni Gym is almost finished.

Nancy Kepes Jeton '76 is chair of the Board of Trustees Committee on Master Plan and Facilities, which is responsible for guiding the evolution of Dartmouth's campus. "Running through everything we do is a mandate to protect, preserve, and enhance," she says. "One of the most precious assets our campus has is its sense of intimacy. We intend to maintain that while ensuring we have the resources we need to continue offering one of the best liberal arts educations in the world."

Dartmouth, above all, she explains, is a pedestrian campus. "Planning decisions respect a '10-minute walking circle' that should encompass each student's experience. It's an important way to ensure that students and faculty are always accessible to one another."

Planning the northern section of the campus after the Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital moved to Lebanon was one of the Board's most significant challenges and one of Dartmouth's greatest opportunities, according to Jeton. "We asked ourselves about the future of the campus," she explains. "Should we extend the design patterns of the existing campus or should we consider a new look that says, 'This is the 21st-century Dartmouth.'? Many members of the community came together to thoughtfully discuss the alternatives.

"Lo-Yi Chan '54, our campus master planner, was enormously helpful in framing these discussions. He guided a reflection on what makes Dartmouth Dartmouth, regardless of construction timeframes. One result was the articulation of a set of campus design guidelines, based on the traditional architectural vocabulary of copper-clad roofs, fenestration patterns, and open space as a connector. Another was the affirmation that selectively punctuating the traditional Dartmouth design vocabulary with alternatives enriched the campus.

"With Lo-Yi's guidance we embarked on a design competition, inviting four internationally prominent architecture firms to help us imagine the new face of the northern edge of the campus. We selected Moore Ruble Yudell because they were able to marry Dartmouth's past and future in an organic way. They've created environmentally sound, wonderful living spaces that speak to the nature of our visually simple campus."

Jeton says that balance and sustainability are also fundamental principles. "We strive for a balance between traditional buildings and those that make a statement. Sustainability, too, is crucial. The College needs to be a role model for students in the area of resource stewardship. And in the long run, energy-efficient buildings save money.

"We also know we have to be flexible. Our environment is constantly evolving," she says. "We've changed our thinking about what's needed in the classroom, for example. We need to support our professors as they introduce new teaching technologies and our students as they make the best use of those technologies. We've changed our thinking about residence halls, too. Students just need more space. Their stereos may have gotten smaller, but everything else has gotten bigger."

Underlying these principles are the priorities of the Wright administration, says Jeton. "The president's sense of the transformative Dartmouth experience is one of integration," she explains. "He believes in the whole student, the whole experience. The building program that's taking shape on his watch is environmentally sound and touches every aspect of the campus: academics, residential life, athletics, the graduate and professional schools, and the medical enterprise. It mirrors his vision of each student's personal experience. President Wright cares enough about how the pieces work together to create an excellent environment, and he's bold enough to have taken all of them on at the same time."

And in the midst of the tremendous scope of all this, she describes how individual voices have been heard. "When we talked with members of the mathematics faculty about Kemeny Hall, they said they needed to interact in public places. For example, if someone is walking up the stairs and meets a colleague coming the other way, they need railings wide enough to rest their notebooks on and work out formulae," she says.

"One would think they'd want smartboards, but they want chalkboards, as well. Why? Because, they told us, chalkboards have a certain smell, erasability, and flexibility - a building sense of excitement that comes from erasing one line of reasoning and replacing it with another. We're committed to supporting these details of the teaching and learning environment through thoughtful campus design.

"What I love most about Dartmouth," adds Jeton, "is its people. Extraordinary people teach and learn here. Jim Wright was my freshman adviser - the first faculty member I met when I came to campus. In the end, it's people like him, working with everyone else in the community, that ultimately shape what Dartmouth looks like and what it will be."


(Go to Evolving Campus at a Glance)

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Last Updated: 5/30/08