The architect and industrial designer Charles Eames once said, “Recognizing the need is the primary condition for design.”
Now that we are emerging from the isolation imposed by COVID-19, what all of us seem to need most is other people—and to relearn how to build relationships with each other.
As Wellesley renovates and reimagines the physical spaces on our beautiful campus, we are working hard to embody connection and belonging within them. Some of the most important spaces for building community are our residence halls, where our students experience the joys and occasional annoyances of daily life with each other and forge lifelong friendships.
We are so fortunate to have these historic and varied halls, but their age presents a series of challenges. Over the past six years, we have invested $30 million in critical repair projects across these buildings, and in renovating living rooms and the Bates dining hall as well as completing accessibility upgrades on the East Side. But we recognize that a much more comprehensive effort is needed.
Last fall, the board endorsed a 10-year plan to upgrade every large residence hall on our campus. Because the plan respects both the historic character of our buildings and the rhythms of College life, it could not, unfortunately, be optimized for speed. Construction will begin after commencement each year and wrap up ahead of students’ return to campus in August. Each residence hall renovation will be phased over two years, and in certain years, the goal is to work on up to three buildings simultaneously.
These renovations are intended to be transformative—full upgrades that will help us achieve our sustainability goals and significantly expand accessibility for all our students—while saving as many original features as possible. Toward that end, we have reached an agreement with the Massachusetts Architectural Access Board that allows us to achieve full accessibility at the level of each residence hall neighborhood, with at least two structures within each neighborhood becoming fully accessible.
As we welcomed our students back to campus this fall, we had the great pleasure of sharing the first project with them: a half-renovated Severance Hall. (See “This Old Hall.”) The renovation was carefully designed to preserve Sev’s unique historic and cultural details while making room for greater accessibility, energy efficiency, warmth, comfort, and light. (The second half will be under construction next summer.)
The renovation was also designed to help nurture those peer relationships that constitute Wellesley’s most precious gift to its students. Outdated spaces, such as unused utility closets and an extraneous staircase, were repurposed as gathering spots, including little nooks furnished to encourage spontaneous private conversations.