Renovated Third Floor of East Sibley Opens

View of third floor renovation with students

photo / Naho Kubota

August 22, 2014

The third floor of East Sibley Hall has a new look that will serve an old purpose. Funded through a gift from Frances Shloss (B.Arch. '45) and designed by New York City–based architects LEVENBETTS, the renovated space opening at the beginning of the fall semester features 11 faculty offices, crit and pinup space, and studio desks for 60 architecture students.

East Sibley's third floor has gone through several iterations over recent decades. When the College of Engineering moved out of Sibley Hall in the late 1950s, the College of Architecture used the space initially to house architecture design studios, and then the Fine Arts Library. The library was moved to Rand Hall in 2012.

"The library needed to move for several reasons," says Kent Kleinman,  Gale and Ira Drukier Dean of AAP. "It was one piece of the master plan for Milstein, Rand, and East Sibley halls that we have been executing since Milstein Hall opened in 2011." That master plan has involved moving faculty offices, architecture student studio space, and the Fine Arts Library into various temporary homes in Rand and Sibley. With the completion of this renovation, all architecture students will have studio space in either Sibley or Milstein hall. "You can understand why we call our master plan a dance chart," says Kleinman.

Sibley's designation as a historic building played heavily into the approach to the project. "Adaptive reuse is a large part of our urban future and what we teach at AAP," says Kleinman. "We took the time to consider preservation versus reconstruction versus new construction, and whether architectural authenticity resides in the material itself or in the design and specifications. We asked questions such as, 'If you replace a piece of damaged wood with the same species of new wood, has architectural authenticity been respected?' and 'Is the patina of age and use part of the historic condition? Glass slumps over time; should replacement glazing artificially replicate the slump to feign an appearance of old glazing?' These are conceptually interesting and aesthetically stimulating questions."

The exterior restoration work, especially the replacement of the original windows, demanded particular care. All 39 double-hung windows were replaced with materially and operationally precise replicas that were custom-crafted by a master carpenter, but with energy-efficient, insulated glass.

Other pieces of the space were renovated instead of replaced. The original pine floor, marked by decades of use, was retained with visible patching and minimal resurfacing. The original wood attic structure remains legible, but new structural interventions were added to address a critical thrust problem at the walls where the roof joists had been severed in the past.

One marked change to the space is the removal of two shear walls that divided the otherwise open space into three cells. A passageway was cut into one wall, and the second wall was completely removed and replaced with a cable-braced, steel moment frame.

"[The frame] allows for an uninterrupted flood of daylight, and a generosity of space," says Kleinman. "The architects have placed these bold interventions in dialogue with the historic material and scale of Sibley, investing the space with a temporal dimension and offering students a pedagogical experience as they live and work in the studios."

Creative use of space permeates the new design. The walls of the bathroom pod and emergency stair exit are clad with recycled plastic and can be used as pinup space, and a 15-foot-wide corridor-cumcollaborative zone between the faculty offices provides an area for interaction and socialization between students and faculty.

"The third floor is moving back to a much-loved use," says Kleinman, "while simultaneously paying homage to an original historic structure, and providing a contrast to the distinct vocabulary of Milstein Hall."

By Rebecca Bowes

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