Over the next few years, the money raised through Haverford’s “Lives That Speak” campaign will improve buildings across campus, from Magill to Roberts to Sharpless.
While the renovations to those buildings will enhance their already existing functions, one project has a much more ambitious goal: transforming Ryan Gym into a Visual Culture Arts + Media space (VCAM).
The goal of VCAM, whose construction will begin this spring, is threefold: to provide campus living room, to be a Maker Arts space, and to house other arts and media related spaces such as a film screening room. VCAM will be the new home of the Hurford Center and will include new spaces within the Old Gym that build on the work of the old squash courts, which have long been used to stage art projects.
“Students have been creating in classes and out since Haverford opened—it’s part of what we do,” says James Weissinger, Associate Director of the Hurford Center. “But much of that activity has been taking place in makeshift spaces, without enough elbow room or other resources. VCAM will help bring much of that activity under one roof.”
The vision for VCAM emerged from long-term conversations among staff, faculty, and students. Students have been actively involved at every stage of the planning process, from vetting the architecture firm to shaping the character of the space. Students have also served on all VCAM planning committees and have provided feedback through community forums.
“One of the building’s main goals [is] to support students in making, showing, and then thinking about their work, whatever media they’re using,” says Weissinger.
Another major goal of the planning process has been to ensure VCAM retains the spirit of Ryan Gym, affectionately known as the Old Gym. The architecture firm chosen for the project, Meyer, Scherer & Rockcastle (MSR), specializes in adaptive-reuse projects like transforming the Old Gym. They worked on a similar project at Carleton College, creating a creative working space that serves many of the same functions that VCAM plans to serve.
“Our architects from MSR [have] fallen in love with the Old Gym— the track, the trusses, the floors, the moldings, and other materials throughout,” says Weissinger. “At the same time, they realize that the building has to negotiate future needs with these elements that speak to the building’s past.”
MSR was also chosen because it is an environmentally-conscious firm. “We care very much about sustainable architecture and are working toward both LEED certification and ethical materials in construction,” says Weissinger.
Alongside functioning as a community living room, which will include a new community kitchen, VCAM will serve as a space for the merging of technology and art. This includes a film editing suite, a green screen, and many new tools in the Maker Arts space. The planning committee has been working with IITS and consultants to ensure the technology in the space is as useful as possible.
“Part of the fun of the first few years will be seeing what happens when we have all of these types of creative practices in one place [including] film and experimental media-making, student work in app design, DIY building, robotics, 3D printing, sculpture, [and] curation,” says Weissinger. “VCAM will also be a place to reflect on what we’re making, and to think about the tools we use, be they a laser cutter or a new green screen.”
At the same time, the planning committee recognizes the challenges inherent to working with technology. “We really did not want the Old Gym to be transformed into some kind of techno-horror with media walls buzzing in our faces all the time,” says Weissinger. “So much of what Haverford is about is talking, reading, writing, and making. New technologies help that work in new and unpredictable ways, but sometimes they can also get in the way.”
If all goes according to schedule, construction will finish in spring 2017, and VCAM will be open to students starting the following fall.