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PSS Spring '09 - The Houghton House Renaissance

Redesigning Architecture's Space

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by Joshua Unikel '07

Adding another component to the renaissance happening in Houghton House, architecture's physical space at HWS is slated to be renovated this summer.

Thanks to the generosity of Ridgway H. White '02, a former architectural studies major, the third floor of Houghton House will become a spacious architectural hub and will include new design and photo studios as well as spaces for storage, exhibition and critique.

"The renovation proposal offers a way to redefine spaces within the context of the studio and make them more efficient," explains Diana Siegel, a senior in the architectural studies program. "Also, by creating a self-contained area for the architectural studies program, students will be able to create, document, store and showcase their work."

"The renovation will repurpose the third floor of Houghton House, making it a dedicated architecture space," says Professor of Art Kirin Makker. "It's going to look like designers live there because they will."

Makker is responsible for spearheading brainstorming sessions (known as "charrettes") for the space's blueprint, which includes input from architectural studies professors and students.

"From the beginning, I thought it was a good idea to incorporate more input from architecture students at the Colleges," she says. "Those who inhabit a space have the most to bring to its design and, in this case, its redesign."

"The charrette was a mutually beneficial event," says Andrew Thies '09. "It was a great practical learning experience for us students and in turn the Colleges got credible, useful feedback."

In addition to the renovation's numerous benefits to HWS students and faculty, the plan also benefits the environment by including new energy-saving lighting and environmentally-friendly linoleum flooring.

"Green is certainly the future for architectural design," White says. "What is 'green' now will be the standard in five years. That's why it's crucial for us to keep the environment in mind as we redesign Houghton House."

With that in mind, it's no wonder Makker foresees that students will be surrounded not only by good design but by good design ethics in a project that, as she says, is a great example of how historic preservation and contemporary design can meld beautifully.

"These renovations in Houghton House are key in the program's development because good studio space cultivates a lasting appreciation for good design," Makker says. "You want your students working in a well-designed place because it's going to ultimately make them better designers. Now, thanks to these renovations and the contributions behind them, the architectural studies program at HWS is going to be infused with a whole new level of energy and rigor, imagination and creativity."