Stone World

21st century "Military Gothic" in Granite

May 20, 2009
photo by Tom Kessler

Jefferson Hall, the new U.S. Military Academy (USMA) Library at West Point, NY, was dedicated last September. 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.


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.

photo by Tom Kessler

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. Tapestry granite serves as the primary cladding material, and it was quarried in New Hampshire by Fletcher Granite Co.

“Cadet education in the 21st century must develop officers who respect the past but are open to the future, who as Army leaders can anticipate and respond effectively to a dynamic and uncertain world,” said retired Brigadier General George B. Forsythe, former USMA Professor and Vice Dean for Education. “As a result, West Point’s new library and learning center is grounded architecturally and symbolically to its historic surroundings, yet also envisioned to provide new gateways for the pursuit of knowledge.”

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.

photo by Cervin Robinson

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.

A tradition of stone

As 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.

photo by Tom Kessler

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.

Representatives from Holzman Moss and STV made two trips to Fletcher Granite Co.’s quarry site to select the blocks of Tapestry granite to be used for the project. According to the architects at Holzman Moss, the material being yielded at the time of the first visit was regular and more consistent in color and patterning than the Tapestry granite used on the Eisenhower Barracks, located next to Jefferson Hall.

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.

photo by Tom Kessler

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.

An historic site

Prior 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.”

photo by Tom Kessler

Jefferson Hall is located on the edge of West Point’s 70-acre parade ground, a training field and athletic space known as the “Plain.”

“Because the Plain is a significant part of this National Historic Landmark District, any building erected on it automatically qualifies for a ‘statement of adverse effect’ from the New York State Historic Preservation Office,” said Holzman. “Designing a facility that reflects the spirit and values of the 21st century Army and honoring the academy’s architectural virtues was imperative.”

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.

photo by Tom Kessler

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.

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.

photo by Tom Kessler

Two ornately carved eagles can be found in panels above entries to Jefferson Hall.

Respecting “Military Gothic”

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.”

photo by Tom Kessler

The top floor of Jefferson Hall includes the Alexander Haig Room, a social space for receptions, events, lectures and multi-media presentations, in addition to serving as a group study and academic learning space. This area features Tapestry granite piers that are spaced along the glazed facade, and the stone carries through from the exterior to the interior.

Centered between the towers is a full-height curtainwall, which is comprised of blast-resistant glass and precast concrete mullions. “They serve to diminish the appearance of the large areas of glass when viewed from the Plain,” Holzman said.

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.

photo by Tom Kessler

The main entry to the building faces the Jefferson Walk pedestrian area, and it features a Briar Hill sandstone wall. The material 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.

Building layout

The 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.

photo by Tom Kessler

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 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.

In addition to the library itself, Jefferson Hall provides for a “platform” for future growth by bringing together the library with the Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE) and the Center for Enhanced Performance (CEP). The CTE provides faculty instructional spaces for new academic learning styles, while the CEP seeks to assist cadets with improved learning techniques and problem-solving methods.

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.

photo courtesy of Holzman Moss Architcture

The architects requested Fletcher Granite Co. to return to an older part of the Tapestry granite quarry to extract material, so it would be closer in character to the stone used for other buildings on the West Point Campus.

The top floor of Jefferson Hall includes the Alexander Haig Room, a social space for receptions, events, lectures and multi-media presentations, in addition to serving as a group study and academic learning space. This area features Tapestry granite piers that are spaced along the glazed facade, and the stone carries through from the exterior to the interior. The granite used for this area - like the rest of Jefferson Hall - is comprised of standard, textured pieces, and lends to the overall vertical feel of the building.

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.

“The building is heavily used,” Holzman said. “Cadets are spending time there, and it is generally full at night.” Up to 1,100 people - nearly one-quarter of the cadet population - can be found there on a given evening.

“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.