Lowering the Drawbridge of the Gothic Wonderland

Sometimes called “the Gothic Wonderland,” this historic boarding school is a storybook enclave set in a broader urban landscape. Established over two hundred years ago, the campus is characterized by its site along the narrow bend of a river, bucolic quads, and Collegiate Gothic architecture rendered in the local variegated stone.

Constructed at once and with an initial excess of space, for many years the school had seen little need to consider growth beyond its original construction. However, the incremental change that naturally occurs over time had created a rabbit warren of spaces, isolated academic fiefdoms, and a fragmented sense of campus community. Hemmed in by the river and surrounded by unchecked development, the campus had become isolated from the merchants and services of its neighbors

Following a recently completed strategic planning and peer school review process, the Board of Governors recognized the time had come for significant program growth and change. Beyond addressing its challenges, the School was also eager to explore the opportunity for an expanded enrollment, made viable by its reputation and location in a growing first-tier city.

Blanchard Group was engaged to develop a campus plan that would resolve the space needs of a rapidly maturing program and position the School for an increased population. A significant dimension of this challenge was repairing the School’s fractured sense of community.

The decisions that shape great campuses can often be read like a book, chapters in a school’s epic tale.

In simplified terms, the planning developed a program for change around three initiatives. First, re-conceived academic spaces to move the School from their longstanding lecture and tutor model to a more tailored, global, entrepreneurial student experience. Second, new student housing that provides for an expanded population with differentiated residential experiences around each grade. And third, a new Center for Campus Life, a program of academic and social spaces that brings the entire community together in scheduled and unscheduled ways.

Defining change for a particular period of campus development is one aspect of a successful planning process. Delineating solutions that amplify important institutional messages is another. In this case, the solution to the campus’ form and organization had to clearly say, “ We have a strong sense of community and are part of a broader community.”

The campus planning recognized the important relationship between these improved academic, residential, and social environments, and placed the new Center for Campus Life at its nexus, “the place these three circles overlap.” This placement is highly visible within the campus community as well as to the broader community across the river.

A further iteration of the campus plan links this centerpiece to a community green surrounded by co-developed maker’s and incubator space via a new pedestrian bridge. This connection between town and gown will enable easier student access to local merchants and services, and neighbors to take advantage of outreach programs hosted by the school.

The decisions that shape great campuses can often be read like a book, chapters in a school’s epic tale. In this case, for many years a “Gothic Wonderland,” an enclave unto itself. Going forward, a vibrant,  interconnected community of learners, its storybook image a fitting backdrop for future development.