Sasaki Associates and university administrators listened to student concerns about the proposed Northeast Triangle dorm at a forum held in conjunction with the Georgetown University Student Association on Wednesday evening.
Approximately 50 students, including severalGUSA members, attended the 90-minute session.
The forum came after intense criticism from both students and alumni regarding the building’s design and location on one of the last green spaces on the north side of campus as well as objections to a lack of transparency in the decision-making process.
A Change.org petition with 765 supporters had also called for Georgetown to solicit concept sketches from two architectural firms besides Sasaki. Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson told The Hoya that the university would not approach other firms.
“My response to the petition request is I understand students’ concerns and their strong interest in this project. We are confident that Sasaski Associates are very capable, very creative, very experienced. We are not planning to solicit concept designs from any other architect,” he said.
In response to concerns about transparency, Sasaki principal Vinicius Gorgati gave a presentation outlining the process that narrowed options for the dorm’s location. Gorgati said the fact that north side of campus has the lowest population density was a factor in the decision.
“It became clear that it would be great to bring a new wave of energy for residential life and student life into the northeast quadrangle,” Gorgati said. “We’re trying to rebalance, invest more … in the north to rebalance.”
But while fewer students live on the north side of campus, the path from the Leavey Center to Red Square is still one of the most heavily trafficked areas during the day. Sapir Yarden (SFS ’15) brought up this point, adding that a hub for student life in this area would cause more traffic while ignoring other parts of campus.
Sasaki representatives also introduced the possibility of creating green space on the Medstar Georgetown University Hospital parking lot, owned jointly by MedStar and Georgetown. Sasaki did not specify how it would replace parking in this scenario.
Gorgati systematically explained why other options the university had considered were declared unfit. While many students and alumni have suggested building a new dorm on Harbin Patio, Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson stressed that this would require the relocation of several university facilities.
Another community suggestion — Reiss Science Building — was declared unsuitable due to its lack of natural light and low ceilings. The abandoned Kober-Cogan Building was rejected because MedStar still owns the property, and negotiations would take time. Olson said that the building would be a possibility for future residence halls.
Students, however, asked whether the Northeast Triangle solution was merely a path of least resistance among the other choices.
Gorgati and university administrators disagreed, emphasizing that the Northeast Triangle was chosen because of its convenient location by the university’s most commonly used student path. In addition, the upcoming Reiss renovation would also allow the university to upgrade the entire walkway from Red Square to the Leavey Center.
Gorgati also described each floor’s interior specifications. The plans include a large lobby with an integrated multipurpose room, designed with the goal of attracting non-residents into the building to create a hub for student life.
To conclude, Gorgati stressed that the current design was not final, promising to compile student responses and concerns and implement them into the design. The location, however, appeared to be final.
“We get to go from this conversation to expression of ‘What is the essence of Georgetown?’” Gorgati said. “What we have right now on the boards is the beginning. This is not the end. … It is just another step in establishing this conversation with you.”
At the end of the forum, students wrote color-coded comments on several images of example architecture and design, both interior and exterior. Overall, comments emphasized the importance of tradition and classical elements, many disparaging the lack of wood paneling and detailing in the images. Most negative comments addressed the “sleekness” or “modernity” of the concept images in contrast to the traditional architecture of Healy Hall, Copley Hall and White-Gravenor.
Some student concerns, like Kevin Sullivan’s (SFS’14) objection to the building’s flat roof, were explained through Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification requirements. Sasaki, however, said that such design elements were open to discussion and could potentially change.
GUSA President Nate Tisa (SFS ’14) said he was satisfied with the forum.
“I think the architects didn’t know everything the students were asking, but they admitted it. They’re not coming in and shutting down.” Tisa said.
The plans for Northeast Triangle have been approved by Advisory Neighborhood Commission2E, but the Old Georgetown Board postponed a decision until Georgetown would be prepared to present more options at OGB’s next meeting Sept. 4. OGB must approve the plans before Georgetown can begin construction.
The next Northeast Triangle open forum will be held August 28.
July 19: This post has been updated to include comment from Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson regarding a Change.org petition to solicit alternative concept sketches.