While on the site visit last November, the group was very fortunate to be joined by Professor John McLeod, a Visiting Assistant Professor of Architecture. At the end of the tour, we were standing down by the Atwater residence halls parking lot, next to the retention pond there, and, looking up toward Château, Professor McLeod remarked how the space had a very urban feel to it. I was intrigued, and asked him to elaborate. Below is his wonderful response back to me-I even learned a new word (fenestration, trying to find an excuse to use it today).
I made the comment at the site walk-through in November that the Atwater space is in some ways more urban than rural. This observation was based primarily on the proportion of the space–that is, the height-to-width ratio in the space between Halls A and B. I don’t know off hand what those dimensions are, but they give the space the feel of a street, at least to me. While a Vermont village green is sometimes longish and rectangular like this space, it is usually bordered by a number of buildings collectively making up the edges, and varying somewhat in height, materials, relationship to the sidewalk, fenestration, etc. The open space of the green between the edge buildings tends to be much broader than it is high in proportion. Whereas a good street tends to feel not too wide, yet not too canyon-like. In the case of Atwater, even with the bends in the two buildings, the ‘street edge’ created by the facades is more hard, planar, and consistent than a typical village green. You get the sense of being on Main Street in Middlebury in the block between Merchants Row and the Battell Bridge. Or possibly on a cross street in uptown Manhattan, or a Parisian boulevard. Speaking of Paris, the Atwater space also has a Renaissance axial quality to it, terminating at the Chateau at the south end and opening to the landscape to the north. In this sense it is similar to Thomas Jefferson’s design for the Lawn at the University of Virginia–itself a space with urban qualities–with the Rotunda (library) at the head and once-open views to the mountains at the opposite end. Finally, the entrances and communal spaces on the ground level of Halls A and B, with the dwelling spaces on the upper levels, again reminds me of the Battell Block in Middlebury or a street in New York City.