The Hunter Science Center at the Emma Willard School is a freestanding addition connected to a neo–gothic building by a glazed bridge at three levels. The cruciform plan is derived from a diagram developed by a study of the optimum conditions for young women to learn. As opposed to the traditional lecture/lab format, the study proposes that young women work and learn best from each other in small groups. The plan encourages these relationships at three different scales: classrooms for eighteen students, “bays” for subgroups of six, and lab benches along the perimeter of the room for partners. In this way, social inter–action and group problem solving are stressed over rote memorization and individual success.
By carefully connecting the new building with its 1936 neighbor, the older structure was made accessible and safe without the wasteful destruction of an elegant limestone stair. Movement is fluid both within the addition and between the two buildings. A new interior stairway is generous and light–filled, and offers places for impromptu gatherings.
On the building exterior, a limestone screen wall addresses the formal plan of the campus quadrangle, as well as serving to complete it. The rest of the building is a combination of split–face and ground–face concrete block. Two tones of cement were partially mixed, producing a variegated split–face block that is particularly sympathetic to the surrounding ashlar construction. A Japanese maple in a sunken court, mysterious fragments embedded in the concrete walls, and the kinetic sculptural quality of the main stair engage the senses in a building devoted to academics.