Bennington College is sited in the pastoral landscape of rural Vermont. With increases in student enrolment projected for the next years three additional student houses were built. The houses are located at the uppermost portion of a rolling meadow along the western edge of campus. The site was chosen because of its unique character and proximity to Commons. The new houses function as an interdependent place for student life that is separate yet connected to the surrounding campus. They are oriented in a radial configuration to filter views to the landscape and create a foreground for the new house scheme, creating also an edge to the campus that was previously undeveloped. Low, field stone retaining walls mediate space between the houses and provide visual continuity between the front and back areas. Straight gravel paths connect individual houses. A limited access gravel road culminates in a defined open area for student recreational activities.
To facilitate the development of a programmatic identity for new housing, the college participated in a series of program workshops focusing on the aspirations of students and providing a forum for ideas exchange. Students expressed that they enjoyed the living environment of the existing houses. What developed from this process was a transformation of the positive attributes of the existing 1930’s era houses into a contemporary dormitory solution. The new house reduces the size of the large, existing house living room and redistributes the area in highly desirable living rooms and a quiet study space on the third floor. The new design eliminates the double-loaded corridor scheme in favour of a single-loaded organization, with services and living areas on the north side and rooms towards the southern exposure. This arrangement permits natural light into the corridor and views from the corridor to the surrounding landscape. The connection of the corridor to the exterior is further aided by the use of magnetic hold-open devices at the egress stair doorways.
Each house accommodates 35 students in single and double bedrooms. The house includes a faculty apartment in a separate, two-story structure adjacent to the dormitory. The space between the house and faculty apartment contains a private terrace for the faculty apartment. The entry hall contains a stair that evokes the arrangement of a traditional residential stairway. A second egress stair along the exterior of the building offers an alternative way to exit the building and an immediate connection to the outside. In warmer months, the stairs and deck will provide a natural place for students to congregate.
The primary exterior cladding material is western red cedar. The sides of the building oriented to the meadow (the south, west and east façades) are sheathed in tongue and groove cedar clapboards, oriented vertically to capture changing light conditions and contrast with the building’s horizontal orientation. The north façade faces the campus and is clad in random width, horizontal cedar shiplap siding.
A system of clear anodized aluminium trim and fascia panels modulates the cedar façades. The clear anodized aluminium windows in each student room contain a translucent glass operable window. The exterior stair supports, decks and railings are galvanized steel. Custom semi-transparent wood stain is used on the north and entry façades of the houses. Three colours, green, red, and grey, are used to complement the surrounding landscape and help define the identities of each of the houses.