The new Winter Visual Arts Building at Franklin & Marshall College was envisioned as a “pavilion on the park” by Steven Holl Architects (SHA). Rising between canopies of old-growth trees and their driplines in south-central Pennsylvania, the art center seemingly floats above the landscape of the campus and Buchanan Park. The 32,000-square-foot project is wrapped in SHA’s signature translucent channel glass to provide an ethereal illumination for art students.
Housing galleries managed by the Phillips Museum of Art, the project also includes a cinema, classrooms, film production spaces and teaching studios for the Art, Art History, and Film departments. A gradual exterior ramp connects from the campus Old Main axis to a second-floor entrance in the new building. On the ground floor, the building opens up to the surrounding community of Lancaster with both a forum space and suite of galleries for art exhibitions. This design was made possible through a lightweight, two-story ‘box-kite’ steel frame where the entire roof structure is exposed. Overhead, tongue-and-groove Douglas fir planks and operable skylights bring natural light and warmth into the common spaces and studios.
The star of the Visual Arts Building is its luminous concave facades. Glass covers more than 70 percent of the building envelope, and the design was realized through channel and structural glass systems, as well as a recycled glass aggregate envelope. The suspended structure features cantilevered trusses with 16-foot-tall structural glass units manufactured in Poland. As the first building on campus that’s naturally ventilated during mild seasons, the project was made with an insulated envelope working alongside geothermal heating and cooling to reduce overall energy demand.
The arts center utilizes a two-layer U-plank system that has never been done before. Instead of traditional interlocking U-shaped glass, the facade is composed of two U-Plank extrusions in which the cavity between them is filled with Wacotech TIMax GL thermal insulation material. The result is 19 percent light transmission for the studios and a high thermal performance that minimizes heat gain in the summer and harnesses solar gain to reduce heat loss in winter. In turn, low-level site lighting is provided by the spill from the building’s interior lighting where more than 75 percent of spaces are daylit. Balancing form and enclosure, the Visual Arts Building becomes a new campus destination for students with space to gather, learn, and grow through the universal language of art.