Center for the Advancement of Public Action

Location: Bennington College, Bennington, VT
Date of Completion: 2011
Program: Symposium Center and Residences
Size: 17,861 SF
Sustainability: LEED Silver Equivalent
Awards: 2013 AIANY Architecture Merit Award, 2012 Building Stone Institute Tucker Award
Photographer: Michael Moran

The Center for the Advancement of Public Action at Bennington College is a gathering place for students, faculty, and professionals on the front lines of public action to confront what it means to make lasting change on the world’s most pressing problems.

The site has views of the Green Mountains to the east, the meadow to the north, the pond and wetlands to the west, and the Visual and Performing Arts Center to the south. Rather than one large structure, the program is divided into three buildings—the symposium, residences for fellows and visitors, and a flexible, multi-use space known as the Lens. The buildings form a central courtyard, encouraging a spirit of collaboration and connection, which is reinforced by walkways between the buildings that link to existing campus circulation.

All three buildings are constructed of steel with block infill and clad in three-inch thick Vermont marble panels. The blocks were found in Rutland, Vermont only fifty miles from Bennington. The blocks come from a stone yard that had purchased marble from several different quarries that had gone out of business. Each marble façade was laid out on the floor of a warehouse prior to installation to insure that the varied colors and sizes were distributed in a desirable pattern. The use of this marble emphasizes our respect for local fabric and material of the northeast.

The symposium building holds the assembly room, which features a stepped floor and curved seating to support dialogue and deliberation. Classrooms designed for collaborative learning, offices, meetings rooms, a faculty lounge, and student common areas support the functions of the building. A glass-walled courtyard is open to the sky, but an eave provides shelter from the elements. The residence building provides living accommodations for fellows and visiting practitioners. Three live/work apartments are similar but unique in scale, layout, views, and furnishings. The smallest building, the Lens, is a place for mediation, contemplation, performance, and debate. An operable hand crank rolls back a portal in the roof to reveal the sky. It’s a place for quiet as much as a place for talk.

The architecture of the Center for the Advancement of Public Action creates a community dedicated to ambitious thought and meaningful action. An inscription in the courtyard is by Adlai Stevenson – “As citizens of this democracy, you are the rulers and the rules, the law-givers and the law-abiding, the beginning and the end.” This quote reminds us that the mission of this center and of its architecture is to educate young people to be better citizens of the world.

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