When the massive renovation of Gilman Hall is
complete, arguably its most dramatic new feature
will be a three-story glass-topped central atrium where
there is currently an open, unused light well.
Inside the atrium, a second-floor courtyard will serve
as a bridge between the Hutzler Reading
Room and Memorial Hall. This new courtyard will sit atop a
first-floor space for the exhibition and
study of the university's archaeological collection, which
will be showcased behind glass walls.
Well, that might be the reality, but that is not quite
how 15 senior civil
saw it. They had a few bright ideas of their own about how
to rework the space.
The students enrolled in Design and Synthesis II, a
capstone course for civil engineering
majors, had the unique opportunity this spring to combine
their structural engineering knowledge with
a measure of creative flair to reimagine a main element of
the renovation of Homewood's first
The class, which builds upon concepts learned in
Design and Synthesis I, focuses on
sustainability and explores the role of precedent and
existing construction as a vehicle for new design.
The students specifically learn how to apply modern
materials and techniques to sustain or revitalize
existing structures within their historic context.
With that objective in mind, the course's creators
felt that the ongoing renovation of Gilman
Hall--a three-year effort that began last summer--provided
an ideal template to serve as the basis
for this year's final project, which focused primarily on
modifications to the existing atrium.
The course was taught by John Matteo, director of
historic preservation for the Washington,
D.C., office of Robert Silman Associates, the structural
engineering firm hired by the university for
the Gilman renovation.
Matteo said the synchronicity of the class and the
renovation was just too good to pass up.
"This really was a perfect project for the class," he
said. "We wanted to show students how to
design new components that would be compatible in the
historic sense of a building, and here we have
an important historic building right on campus."
The course's lectures focused on the application of
engineering to evaluate existing structures
as the starting point for the design process. Students
learned firsthand about structural analysis,
schematic designs, construction materials, cost analysis
and many other elements of structural
Matteo said a chief aim here is to explore the role of
the structural engineer through design
For the final project, broken into two phases, the
students worked in groups of threes. Phase I
required the students to add usable space for Gilman Hall's
atrium while maximizing the utility of the
existing truss bridge. Phase II incorporated the addition
of a glass roof to the design. While they had
some room for creativity, the students were required to use
the existing bridge in the final atrium
During the semester, the groups made four site visits
to observe ongoing construction of the
building's infill and atrium area, gather structural data
on the bridge and hear a presentation from the
Guest lecturers included an expert on relevant
building materials and a representative of the
project's lead architectural firm, R.M. Kliment and Frances
Halsband Architects, who detailed the
current renovation of the 93-year-old building.
So, what did the students come up with? A common theme
among several groups was to strip
the atrium bridge right down to its bones and clad it in
glass, a natural move for engineers interested
in structure. Each team also envisioned a new, accessible
space within the atrium--an opportunity for
introducing some "green" to the interior while adding a
lecture hall and mechanical space.
An added challenge was to improve the circulation and
accessibility within the historic building.
One group inserted a spiral staircase leading off the
bridge to an outdoor terrace below. Another
group modified the existing stair and halls while adding an
additional glass-railed walkway on the third
floor that overlooked the entire atrium and offered a new
vantage point for the iconic Gilman tower.
A third group, 310 Engineering, literally took the
project to another level. The team's design
incorporated a new dramatic north-south skywalk that also
suspended the existing truss bridge below,
which was cut in the middle with stairs leading off on both
Team member Michael Palantoni admitted that his
group's design might cost more but said 310
Engineering conveniently ignored possible budget
constraints and focused on the technical aspects.
Palantoni said the class was extremely valuable and a
lot of fun.
"It really tells you how the whole design process
works," he said. "There is no other course that
goes over all these aspects. We learned so much about the
practical side of engineering and all the
things you have to take into account when working on an
He said that he and his fellow students also learned
more about Gilman Hall than they ever
thought they would.
"It was kind of neat to become an expert on something
so familiar to everyone here," he said.
"In our other classes, students would ask us what we were
doing and we got to tell them, 'Do you know
that hallway to the HUT is actually a bridge?' [Laughs.]
It's funny how nobody knew that."
They do now.