A New Vision
Compared to most universities, George Mason
University in Fairfax, Va., is a johnny-come-lately. Founded in
1957, the school became independent in 1972 and has been known
primarily as a suburban commuter school. But over the last decade
it has expanded its growth (32,000 students) and laid-down strong
educational bona fides (two Nobel Laureates). What it has never
really had, though, after going through years of massive expansion,
is a unified architectural presence.
For Amado Fernandez, AIA, and Keith Driscoll, AIA, of Hughes
Group Architects, Sterling, Va., that meant there was a clean slate
to play on when they designed the addition to the Donald and Nancy
de Laski Performing Arts Center. Fernandez acted as
principal-in-charge on the project, while Driscoll took the reins
as project architect.
Their marching orders were to design an addition for the
performing arts center that would house additional space for the
dance program (which was needed to get full accreditation), as well
as band and percussion practice rooms. The addition is on the back
of the center, where most of the classrooms are, and is the main
connection to the campus, requiring a more formal entryway. Since
the center is on a sloping grade, the addition actually attaches to
the existing building on the third floor.
"The existing building remained pretty much as is for the most
part," says Fernandez. Unfortunately, the existing building was a
rather large, nondescript rectangle with earthen brick. "George
Mason University is not a campus with an overriding architectural
or material theme," Fernandez says. "For the performing arts, we
wanted to create an edgier element."
Hughes Group Architects used bowing walls and metal panels from
Perth Amboy, N.J.-based Englert Inc., to differentiate the addition
from the existing building. It separated the addition visually by
placing a wing wall. The curved walls intersect the building
envelope, and the small, shake-like metal panels appear on the
large bowing wall's interior as well as exterior.
There were both technical and aesthetic reasons for choosing the
smaller panels. "We wanted to maintain the curve without having to
bend the panels," says Fernandez. "We could do the radius easier
and cleaner." Smaller panels also prevented them from having to
deal with issues of oil canning.
Aesthetically, the smaller panels related back to the brick of
the existing building, as well as give the large façade more
definition. "The panels have a texture to them," says Driscoll.
That texture and easy pattern give depth to the wall and reflect
the natural light with variations, creating more visual
"We consciously didn't go with large
horizontal panels," says Fernandez. "Basically, the addition is
mostly composed of metal panels, glass and curved walls. We wanted
the skin of the addition to be consistent with itself and create
difference with the existing brick."
The selection of the natural metal look is part of the
differentiation as well, and an important element to providing the
more contemporary, edgy feel that a performing arts center should
have. "The coil stock is stamped with a texture, which coupled with
the metallic paint color, gives a lot of life and dimension to the
Kynar-coated aluminum," says Driscoll. "Otherwise, it can be pretty
The practice rooms for both band and dance are light filled from
both the curtainwalls and skylights, which were both supplied by
Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope, Santa Monica, Calif. A long skylight
across the breadth of the lobby sheds natural light on the metal
panels on the interior of the curved wall, which again brings the
outdoors indoors and breaks the building envelope barrier.
The other major element of the addition is the entryway.
Previously, students sneaked into the back of the building through
a recessed entry with double metal doors. Now, the entry reads like
an old-fashioned theater, reinforcing the role of the building as a
performing arts center. The canopy is custom fabricated and appears
to be freestanding, although strongly braced by cables. Its gentle
slope mimics the curve of the walls, and one end appears to dive
into the wall, breaking the envelope in yet another way.