Council of Independent Colleges Historic Campus Architecture Project


Atwater Commons

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Institution Name: Middlebury College
Original/Historic Place Name: Atwater Commons
Location on Campus: Chateau Rd.
Date(s) of Construction:
2001-2004original construction Kiernan Timberlake Associates
Designer: Kieran Timberlake Associates (Philadelphia)
Type of Place: Building group
Style: Beaux-Arts classicism, Modern/post-WWII, Contemporary (Glossary)
Significance: architecture, education, landscape
Narrative: see below
References: see below
2004-present (2006)library (and study)
2004-present (2006)faculty offices
2004-present (2006)dining hall
2004-present (2006)outdoor space (commons)
2004-present (2006)other (mixed use: social space, dean's suite, seminar rooms)
2004-present (2006)residence halls

Atwater Commons is the second of five projected residential complexes to be developed as the result of a recent, ambitious Middlebury residential initiative. The concept involves the organization of the student body into five residential commons, each of approximately 450 students--somewhat on the model of the houses at Harvard or the Colleges at Yale--with a mix of social, dining, dean's, and academic facilities that will foster a reintegration of student academic, residential, and social life. Each commons is to have a full range of residential types to encourage students to remain with their commons throughout their four years and to discourage senior desire to move off campus. Each complex will have its own support staff and its own programs controlled by a commons council, and each will have a commons green as a physical focus. In planning terms, each provides a challenge for the Middlebury campus to realize an appropriate cluster of facilities, utilizing and supplementing existing dormitories and creating an identity for its commons while at the same time remaining true to the campus pattern of spaciously placed independent buildings within an open landscape.

Atwater Commons, named for the college's first president, incorporates three existing college buildings--Le Chateau (James Layng Mills, 1924-1925), Coffrin Hall (Edward Larrabee Barnes, 1986), and Allen Hall (1963)--and a Greek Revival faculty head's house (1838--accessible through a small woods). To the north of these, behind Le Chateau, Kieran Timberlake Associates have placed two large residence halls following the lines of natural north-south ridges, along with a dining hall set along the walk to the head's house and oriented to take advantage of a beautiful southeast vista of the Green Mountains. The visual and historical prominence of Le Chateau provides the commons with a central-campus "address," and the green provides a community focus. The tree-covered ridges and woods provide a natural release from the orthogonal formality of the campus, especially appropriate to a commons that has developed environmental interests as part of its particular identity. The residential halls are designed to utilize the pervasive campus stone and to have elevation proportions, window rhythms, and building profiles that invoke the forms of Painter Hall. At the same time and in accordance with campus environmental concerns, they are designed without air conditioning, instead utilizing an orientation designed to catch prevailing breezes, suites running through the depth of the buildings, windows proportioned to maximize cross-ventilation, and ventilation stacks designed to look like historic chimneys punctuating the rooflines. The dining hall is an oval pavilion set as an object in the woods, with glazed exposures to the views and a "green" roof that will maximize insulation and minimize run-off. The landscaping design for the roof and for the commons site, by Andropogon Associates of Philadelphia, features native species, run-off catch basins with filtering wetland plantings, no-mow lawns, and inplanting in the woods to enhance their opaqueness in all seasons as a buffer toward adjacent neighborhoods.


Kieran Timberlake Associates. Atwater Commons. Presentation booklets. [Philadelphia: Kieran Timberlake Associates], 2001 and 2002.


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Last update: November 2006