The University of Rochester, in Rochester, N.Y., began accepting students to its new Goergen Institute of Data Science program in fall 2015, and two years later the school opened the doors to an ambitious new facility to house the effort.
The building features a creative façade design by Kennedy & Violich Architects (KVA) that plays with the theme of a data-centric mission, offering a “coded” indicator of the work going on within its walls. At the same time, it also ties this very modern building to the larger campus, with its roots back to the 1930s.
The campus is the university’s third home and was originally built as its College for Men in 1930. Its oldest buildings feature Greek Revival themes popular in higher education at the time, and the school’s design guidelines still favor what KVA Vice Principal J. Frano Violich, FAIA, calls “the classic base-middle-top” approach to massing. Brick as a façade material is another design guideline requirement—and not just any brick. Glen-Gery’s 55-DD brick is specifically called out, and that is not an unusual choice, says Violich.
“This is a brick that’s been used as a standard for so many universities across the Northeast, and maybe beyond.”
But, while KVA’s palette might have been traditional, the final project is anything but, as the designers chose to turn their required material on its end, in a very literal way. Protruding header bricks now create a pattern meant to symbolize streaming data, against an arrangement of punched windows of various rectangular sizes that create their own visual metaphor of an old-school data punch card.
“In the masonry, itself, we posed the challenge of how we could use masonry as a pixel,” says Violich.
Violich and his team worked with Glen-Gery to develop a 12-in. version of their classic 55-DD brick for use as the protruding headers, which were installed, cantilever fashion, to extend 8 in. out from the 4-in. thick brick exterior wall. While Violich says the patterning was easy to adjust, thanks to today’s design software, the installation involved a team of masons with decades of experience.
“We had all these studies for the sequence of installation,” Violich says, describing his first discussions with the brick foreman about how this complicated plan could be realized in a course-by-course fashion. The foreman, however, had a different idea: installing all the brick except the protruding units, with spacers to hold their place, and then going back to add those units in, once the wall was complete. The approach proved efficient, Violich says, observing how that back-and-forth with the foreman illustrated the continuing importance of hands-on construction experience, even as software takes over more of design.
“The efficiency of the digital layout and the efficacy of the human labor,” he says, describing this interaction between technology and tradesmanship. “From the digital to the tactile—there is a kind of craft in it.”