A TOWN FOR LEARNING
A TOWN FOR LEARNING
NEW HAMPSHIRE COLLEGE, MANCHESTER, NEW HAMPSHIRE 1970-1981
It is hard to imagine that an eight year old architecture firm would be given the chance to design a whole college campus from scratch today, but that is precisely the challenge that Ed Shapiro gave Huygens and Tappé when he sought to grow the school his dad had founded. After the school was given degree-granting authority by the state in 1963, converted to non-profit status in 1968, and dropped “of Accounting and Commerce” from its name in 1969, it became simply, New Hampshire College. Mr. Shapiro left the old downtown Manchester facilities for a new site seeking a new identity for the school.
The new site, a 90-acre parcel purchased from farmer Holly Whittemore, was traversed by easements for Interstate 93, a power line, and a railroad right of way along the Merrimac River. Fifty acres were available for development; only fourteen were on level ground. Most of the land was densely wooded at the time. Stuart Carter, the firm’s project architect, remembers that an additional constraint was that Mr. Whittemore’s asparagus patch needed to be preserved in the initial planning.
In view of the extreme limitations of budget and site, a program of space requirements was developed, and a feasibility study prepared including a survey of student opinions. Until the conclusion of this study, the realization of the project was very much in doubt. The study included comparative investigations of the economies of various campus development approaches, building construction methods, and materials.
Three building plans were submitted to the Trustees. They selected Plan A, which provided for the facilities to be built along a pedestrian way. It was believed that with the street as the predominant organizing element, the structures themselves could be infinitely flexible, growing and developing as the college grew and developed. The first phase of construction would include enough elements to create a viable community. Wood construction was chosen both for its cost and its adaptability to the master plan selected.
The final decision was for the initial phase of construction to include two dormitories, a cafeteria/student center, a library, a classroom building, a combined administration/classroom building and a gymnasium shown in dark green. The dormitories would house 200 students – 100 women and 100 men. The total space was no larger than what the College occupied around the City.
The campus was seen as a growing “town,” capable of expanding to a population of more than 2,000 people. Unlike the traditional “institution,” the town has no entrance gate, no imposing administration building, no impersonal dormitories or dining hall. Instead, the various functions of the “town” are grouped along a main street, forming the “business section.” Intersecting the main street are roads leading to the residential areas on one side, and car parking areas on the other. Running parallel, these areas are within easy walking distance from all the functions along the main street. As the town grows, so do the business sections, residential areas and parking areas—always maintaining their proportional relationships.
The buildings themselves are merely parts of the “townscape,” forming street walls rather than expressing independent volumes. Their functions are as those of a town: offices for town government (college administration), private business offices (classrooms), small professional offices (faculty), but also a restaurant and coffee shop, drug store, book store, and post office. As in a town, there is a library and a large meeting space for community activities (gymnasium).The residences are alike “condominiums,” places where the student has his or her privacy. The community’s social and recreational activities take place along or on the main street. “Night life” and weekend activities will therefore happen on and along the main street.
The “town” quality also extends to the treatment of all graphics on campus. Signage ranged from strictly functional road signs and directions, to commercial signs for book store, drug store or restaurant, “institutional” or “business” signs according to the function of a facility, and residential and “fun” signs where appropriate. This was, after all, the era of 1970’s “super graphics.”
Rem was enamored of the color of the Edward Larabee Barnes Bank of New England tower in Boston and therefore had a matching custom paint color mixed for the college buildings. Once complete, President Shapiro would have them painted white because he better appreciated New Hampshire wood buildings that are white in the green landscape.
The College grew rapidly and it discovered how appropriate the “town” concept was for a growing educational institution.
NEW HAMPSHIRE COLLEGE TODAY IS SOUTHERN NEW HAMPSHIRE UNIVERSITY
It is interesting to note that President Shapiro originally directed the Phase 2 housing to be designed such that it could be rented on the open market if the College did not generate enough demand. While a smart planning move for a private college in the volatile 70’s, it seems almost humorous now that the demand has propelled the University to more than 60,000 students on campus, online, and in satellite programs matriculating in three schools – the School of Business, the School of Education, and the School of Liberal Arts. Three thousand of those students live on campus. In 2007, SNHU became the first carbon-neutral university in New Hampshire. And what is the legacy of the original plan and buildings? President Emeritus Edward Shapiro has the best perspective and offered the following when contacted for the blog: