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I met with Glenn Cochrane, Associate Dean of Students, Director of Residence Life and Student Conduct at Framingham State University in mid-December 2014. I was there to learn how the building had worked over the years and he was eager to find out about the original design of the building.  I shared our photo book with him and his first comment was “Wow, I never saw the lounge look this good.”

Lounge when the building opened.

When Cochrane arrived at the school in 1997, Linsley Hall had seen better days. At that time, it was somewhat more remote from the core campus than today, where the construction of a new residence hall has created an open space of which Linsley now forms the western edge. Glenn recounted the rumor around campus that the dorm was “designed by a person who specialized in prisons.” It is not uncommon for architecture to generate these urban legends or to collect nicknames, like the “Pregnant Building” (the old Bank of Boston downtown) or the “Darth Vader Building” (Boylston Street at Exeter in the Back Bay) as the general population interacts with the buildings. Glenn thought this stemmed from a few things: the block and plank structural system, the cellular nature of the plan, low ceiling heights, a confusing circulation system that sometimes forced you to go down to go up, and last but not least, the barbed wire the University installed to keep students from climbing out on the lower roof from the bedroom windows.

These student perceptions are all the more ironic since at the time the building was completed, the firm’s primary market was high-end custom homes, some of which we have shared with you over the last few weeks.TOP TO BOTTOM RENOVATION

The Massachusetts State College Building Authority (MSCBA) was created in 1963 to build and renovate revenue-funded facilities (dormitories, dining halls, etc.) for the nine state colleges. Linsley Hall was one of the early buildings completed under the Authority, and in 1997 it was due for an overhaul. Linsley had even been mothballed for one year in the early nineties as school enrollment fell.  Its slightly isolated location had fueled its reputation as a rowdy all-male hall. In fact, when the renovation was publicly announced, a neighbor showed up to a community meeting with an inch-thick file of newspaper clippings citing previous issues at the hall. A key part of the renovation involved solving the circulation problem.  The bathrooms in the core were split and the outside rooms became part of a suite, while those lining the courtyard remained double rooms.  This eliminated the confusing double corridor and provided a variety of accommodations.  The architect inserted a bridge in the stair hall that allowed one to continuously move along the second floor, eliminating the “go down to go up” problem.  A necessary but less successful addition, was the elevator.  Tucked into the interior corner of the courtyard, the machine room extends awkwardly into the green space.  On the interior, cast-in-place concrete beams seem to be more than was necessary.  The University required a single point of security and desired a grander entry, so the architect moved the entrance from a low bay into the adjacent two-story porch.  I suggested that as a student of Wright’s work, the firm was using the sense of compression at the entrance to make the 8’-8” floor-to-floor heights seem more generous once inside the building, and positively grand as one steps down into the lounge facing the courtyard.  Glenn was clearly intrigued by the architectural thought behind the original design.  It was clear to me that it was a missed opportunity that we did not know about the renovation when it was advertised and as such did not participate in its renewal.

An unfortunate by-product of the security concerns of today is the enclosing of the courtyard and open spaces under the end of the wings with ornamental iron fencing. On the plus side, robust construction and a nearly full-height basement under most of the structure facilitated the installation of updated mechanical systems, making sure Linsley Hall will continue to house students for many years.

An interesting fact is that the original interior design marked one of the first uses of John Adden’s modular furniture. Adden has since gone on to become a top residence hall furniture supplier and also supplied the furniture for the renovation. 

We started working with the MSCBA again in 2003 at Westfield State University and the former Director, Linda Snyder, had a theory that if we gave students a better environment, maybe they would treat the buildings better. She suggested that the CMU and concrete, chosen for longevity and low maintenance, were actually challenging the students to inflict damage. Looking back on it, I wonder if her theory evolved out of the Linsley Hall renovation experience. As this new thinking permeated residence life administrators across academia, the newly constructed and renovated buildings stopped being called ‘dormitories’ and instead became ‘residence halls.’ This metamorphosis over 50 years is the story of Linsley Hall.