Bennington has embarked on a bold initiative to creatively enhance and sustain the extraordinary living laboratory that is our campus. We are making a $30 million investment that will leverage improvements to where and how our students learn, strengthen the infrastructure that supports our community’s health and wellness, and deepen the College’s ability to strategically invest in the kind of education the world so desperately needs.
This campus renewal is a physical expression of who we are, and a catalyst for what we wish to become. Your support ensures that Bennington will remain the transformative place it has always been—a place that widens the frame of what’s possible.
In the 86 years since its founding, Bennington College has built a remarkable legacy: our alumni, students, and faculty include changemakers, culture shapers, and groundbreakers of every type. We continue to attract the maverick thinkers, artists, and experimenters who have made this campus the site of collective discovery and perennial innovation.
The campus renewal that is underway is historic for Bennington. Yet its purpose is as old as the College’s founding: to create an environment that continually challenges students to deeply explore questions and discover who they are, and continually evolve its methods of instruction.
We give our students the tools to imagine what is not there.
How do we unlearn in order to be open to receive the things that we don’t know?” Michael Wimberly, composer, percussionist, faculty member
Horizons are changed here. Students are changed here.
Bennington is the place where I caught the first glimpse of what the best version of myself might feasibly look like.” KIERAN NAJITA ’16
In spaces that serve as physical reminders. Creative re-imaginings. Catalysts for reinvention.
There’s an extremely flexible attitude on campus about how space is used, what space is for—and that flexibility has a parallel within the curriculum.” ANNE THOMPSON, DIRECTOR AND CURATOR OF USDAN GALLERY
This community-wide effort will provide Bennington with the ability to strategically invest in our physical plant. The impact will be felt and seen throughout our buildings and grounds and the student experience. It will enable the College’s continued bold evolution—and serve as a catalyst for our long-term ability to continually break new ground.
The Fund will help us adapt to the changing needs of our facilities, proactively invest in their programs, and help Bennington advance its mission and live up to its own values.
Our objectives are organized across four areas:
Commons was the keystone of the arch; it held the young campus together. Housing the dining hall, post office, bookstore, health service, lounge, studios, academic and performing space, it has been — and remains — Bennington’s student center and campus centerpiece, its public face and private heart.
Its walls bore witness to the cultural and intellectual life of the 20th century: the birth of modern dance through Martha Graham and Doris Humphrey; lectures by Peter Drucker and W.H. Auden; readings by Zora Neale Hurston, Buckminster Fuller, e.e. cummings, and Ralph Ellison. Bob Dylan played here in ’61 — opening for the Reverend Gary Davis.
The environment here is dynamic. That’s part of the pedagogy of space at Bennington. When you see that in the physical representation of your campus, you feel that the values in your education are confirmed. There’s no disconnect between where you live and what you learn.” Duncan Dobbelmann, Chief Communications Officer
In ’85, some of the walls stopped talking. For more than three decades, the storied Third Floor and its 15,000 square feet have been closed, failing to meet fire codes and the requirements of ADA accessibility. Meanwhile, mechanical systems — inefficient, antiquated, on a green campus that prides itself on looking forward — have not been updated or replaced since 1932. The building was never insulated. The original design as a two-sided building (its monumental façade framed the northern edge of Commons Lawn, the core campus, its smaller north wing served as a service entry for back-of-house operations) has grown increasingly misplaced on a campus that has expanded northward over eight decades. As the architects say, the obstructed movement between north and south halves of the campus puts the campus’s central building in stark opposition to the ethos of the college, which emphasizes flow and the seamless integration across disciplines.
Renovating the dormant third floor will create 15 additional classrooms and learning spaces, and restore a home for performances, art installations, and the experiential learning of humanities. A re-imagined northern entrance and floor plan will transform a campus centerpiece, finally, into a 360-degree building. New systems will be efficient and technologically up to date. The old open mailboxes — a tangible symbol of community — will be restored, and a bakery/café added. An iconic old building will be made new again. It will say to new generations of Bennington students, “I’m here for you now, make of it what you can.”
Among the enhancements:
There is an attention paid here to beauty in the deepest sense. It’s in our signs and our designs and in our building materials. It’s not about matching style and color. The aesthetic here — the intention — goes beyond the surface. It includes a respect for the past and a reverence for form and function. At the same time, Bennington has never been interested in competing — in choosing to compete — in a campus and amenities arms race. Bennington has always been interested in making its buildings work better and more efficiently. In engaging with the full set of its campus resources and breathing new life into them.
As associate vice president of facilities management and planning Andrew Schlatter likes to say, every building at Bennington is not a tight fit. “We like ‘loose-fit’ architecture here,” he says. “Adaptable, flexible, multi-use, able to change with the times.” The new student health center is a showcase of loose fit — it started its life as a chicken coop and brooder before becoming faculty apartments and offices. It’s emblematic of how we view buildings here. It’s the same way we view our education.
The new Health and Wellness center will provide:
Bennington puts students at the center of their own educations and in the fall of 2018, they will have the rare opportunity to reflect on and participate in the re-imagining of their own Student Center. In a course taught by architect Andrew Schlatter (Bennington’s associate vice president of facilities management and planning) and architect and faculty member Donald Sherekfin, students will work collaboratively to generate concepts and design ideas for a full interior renovation of a space transitioning from its temporary function as a dining hall back to a home for student-centered programming. The animating question: How can the mosaic of proposed programs occupy the existing building in ways that create efficient, compelling spaces?
The course—and the resulting plans—will reflect both a student-centered approach to learning and a purpose-driven approach to physical design: Both are Bennington hallmarks.
The reimagined student center will incorporate a wide number of programs and uses, including (potentially) features such as:
...why not think in terms of a continuous whole, something that would be neither one big building nor 40 small ones, but both…a stream of energy rising and falling with areas of concentration and areas of expansion, each piece capable of having its own architectural identity...?” Elizabeth Brown ’37, Architectural historian
The Bennington College campus is home to a remarkable range of historically significant buildings, built over a span of more than two centuries. It is not a static historic landmark. Rather, it is a dynamic, living, inhabited space, where needs are constant and changing.
The ongoing dialogue between the buildings and the College is a testament to the capacity of the structures to adapt to new uses, and also to the values, creativity, and commitment of the Bennington community itself. Antiquated systems get updated and made more efficient. Surfaces get maintained, roofs repaired and replaced, foundations shored up. Here, we do not tear down and start over; our history evolves. We maintain and adapt. The greenest building is the one that is already built.
In addition to supporting renovations and new construction to some of our campus' most utilized facilities, a fully resourced Campus Renewal Fund will also provide Bennington with the flexibility to invest in ongoing critical infrastructure upgrades throughout the physical plant. These could include:
Mundane as it sounds, maintenance of our land and buildings is perhaps one of the deepest means we have of engaging with our physical home; it is also the most subtle, and the least recognized.” Andrew Schlatter, Associate Vice President for Facilities Management and Planning
The alchemy between program and place has defined this campus from the beginning, when the audacious idea of starting a college during the first hard years of Depression required creativity and compromise.
Researchers have learned that creativity is not unleashed through absolute freedom. Creativity emerges from a well-defined problem placed amidst constraints and the range of possibilities. The campus renewal that is underway is historic for Bennington, yet it reinforces what’s always been true here, if not always easy. It’s a physical expression of who we are and what we wish to become.
Bennington has embarked on a campaign to creatively enhance, expand, and maintain the extraordinary living laboratory that is our campus. We can’t succeed without you.
There is a remarkable liveliness and thoughtfulness palpable in buildings and spaces all across the campus. The spirit and beauty of Bennington exist in its people and its places, each informing, inspiring, and challenging the other.
The Campus Renewal Fund will focus on where and how our students learn, the physical infrastructure of health and wellness of our entire community, and the College’s ability to strategically invest in special facilities projects.
The wonderful thing about being revolutionary by design is that every forward motion is also a reaffirmation of our core values and a reconnection to our roots. When we look to the future, we are embracing our legacy. We recognize the extraordinary work of those who have come before, and we are grateful, because they—you—are absolutely a part of the future we will build, together.
Mariko Silver, President