21st Century "Military Gothic" in Granite
One of the most storied campuses in the country received a prominent new addition this past September with the dedication of Jefferson Hall, the U.S. Military Academy (USMA) Library at West Point, NY. While designed in a 21st century style, the building also pays tribute to the classic designs on campus, including the use of domestic granite for the exterior and interior cladding.
A decade ago, leaders on West Point’s 200-year-old campus recognized that a new library facility - in the form of an interactive learning center - was necessary to meet the growing educational needs of its 4,400-plus cadets, in addition to the faculty.
The $62-million, six-story, 141,000-square-foot building was planned and designed by STV Incorporated (Architect-of-Record and Engineer) in collaboration with Holzman Moss Architecture (Design Architect) for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
A tradition of stoneAs part of the venerable West Point campus, the neighboring buildings to Jefferson Hall include structures designed by noted architects such as Bertram Goodhue, Ralph Adam Cram, and Paul Cret. Most of these buildings are no more than four stories high, and the facades feature a great deal of surface relief and texture.
“The gray granite on these structures varies from building to building, and it was originally quarried on both sides of the Hudson River and in later years from more remote sites,” explained Malcolm Holzman, FAIA, principal at Holzman Moss, who was responsible for the building’s design. “Before Jefferson Hall, the most recent building was completed in 1965, and it used Tapesty granite from a Fletcher Granite Co quarry.” The Tapestry granite is quarried in Milford, NH.
Because of this condition, the architects requested Fletcher Granite Co. to return to an older part of the quarry to extract material. During the second quarry visit, 10% of the blocks were eliminated from fabrication because of the regular patterning, consistency of color and lack of pink veining.
To keep the cost of fabrication at a manageable level, the stone was specified in four standard split rectangular block heights of 4, 8, 12 and 16 inches, and all of the pieces are 4 inches thick.
An historic sitePrior to Holzman Moss Architecture’s design work on Jefferson Hall, STV conducted a comprehensive study and programming phase for the project, during which 19 potential sites were considered and reviewed. Ultimately, the client selected one site on the edge of West Point’s 70-acre parade ground, a training field and athletic space known as the “Plain.”
“The Plain location provides prominence for a facility dedicated to nurturing intellect; it is the first new academic building in the central area since 1972,” said Price Jepsen, AIA, STV project manager, who was responsible for the building site selection process, strategic planning and initial programming. “Its program reflects a changing learning environment, from a repository of books to a place where new, interactive instructional methods can be developed and the value of life-long education expressed.”
To help illustrate to the New York State Historic Preservation Office that the chosen site was appropriate for Jefferson Hall, three-dimensional models of the building were created to show that the architects were “relating the placement and shape of the building to the existing campus context and nearby structures,” Holzman said.
Taking advantage of West Point’s location on the literal “point” on the Hudson River’s west bank, the building features windows that offer north, south and east views to the water. “Given the site, we wanted the users of the building to enjoy the river views,” Holzman said, adding that this was achieved through the use of double-height windows.
The expansive use of glass offers two benefits. For users of the library, the granite enclosed spaces in the two end sections of the building - including collections, individual reading areas and library support spaces - the large windows offer framed views of the Plain and the Hudson River. Meanwhile, the building’s glass middle section gives the facility a soft “glow” from the exterior when it is illuminated during the evening hours, as well as providing panoramic views of the campus and river from inside. “The building has a much different appearance at night compared to its neighbors,” Holzman said.
Respecting â€œMilitary Gothicâ€Essentially, Jefferson Hall is divided into three masses with step-backs as the building moves skyward. This echoes the form of surrounding structures, along with the use of granite, sandstone window surrounds and a three-dimensional “West Point Arch” at the main entry. West Point Arches, considered to be an important symbol for all academic buildings on campus, can also be found atop the largest window openings.
In all, 1,586 tons of granite was used to clad the two end towers of Jefferson Hall, and much of it was supplied with hand-pitched edges and a rusticated finish. “If you look at the other buildings on campus, there are no large flat surfaces,” Holzman said. “We developed the design for the two towers to articulate the surfaces and accentuate the vertical proportions of the towers.”
Additional design elements include amber-colored glass brick to filter light into an archival area partially below grade at the base of the curtainwall, and exposed structural clay tile walls, which bring warmth to the entry lobby and collection areas.
In selecting interior design elements, the architects sought to use colors and patterns that would complement the uniforms of the Corps of Cadets. This is evidenced in the representations of stripes and chevrons in fixtures and finishes as well as the graphic abstractions of military medals, seals and inscriptions in the carpeting, light fixtures and terrazzo floors.
Building layoutThe main entry to the building faces the Jefferson Walk pedestrian area, and it features a Briar Hill sandstone wall. According to Holzman, the sandstone was chosen for its texture and graining, and it was also a suitable material to inscribe the carvings that surround the entrance. These include the inscription for the building as well as two very detailed elements - the Seal of the U.S. and the West Point Seal.
In addition to these carvings at the main entrance, two ornately carved eagles can be found in panels above other entries to Jefferson Hall.
The main entry leads to a central rotunda - donated by the Class of 1968 - which includes the donor wall, the West Point Crest embedded in terrazzo and a bronze sculpture of Thomas Jefferson. A central staircase leads visitors to the second floor, where the actual library spaces begin. The central staircase was an important element, since the cadets do not use the elevators.
Interactive learning centers, group study, technology-rich classrooms and 900 individual study spaces are integral to the facility, and the library also serves as a repository for more than 1 million books and other materials.
Initial site selection for Jefferson Hall began in 2000, the design was completed from 2002 to 2004, and construction took place from 2005 to 2008. Now completed, the facility is positively regarded by cadets, faculty and alumni.
“It’s really inspiring, and it has changed the way of learning here,” said Colonel Daniel J. Ragsdale, Ph.D., the USMA Vice Dean for Education. “It is not a sterile environment. When the cadets are here, they cannot forget where they are and the totality of the cadet experience.”
The building has achieved a bronze rating under the Army’s SPiRiT program - the equivalent of a LEED-certified, green-design rating.