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Wegmans Hall

University of Rochester

Red brick may seem ubiquitous in university buildings. Its regular rhythm and color palette symbolize many college campuses, especially in the northeast United States. Yet when Kennedy & Violich Architecture (KVA) was assigned 53-DD brick as a material for Wegmans Hall at the University of Rochester, the firm did not see this as a restraint. KVA, says principal Frano Violich, often works with materials in unconventional, conceptionally based, innovative ways. A standard brick like 53-DD, he says, “opens the possibility of what we call ‘misusing’ a material—creating conditions that make you ask questions.” Wegmans Hall’s Goergen Institute of Data Science inspired this misuse. KVA expresses the high-tech nature of the institute by detailing the building façade with irregular brick patterns meant to suggest streaming data. Header bricks project as much as eight inches from flemish bonds to form a pattern of dots that appear to be saying something, if only we could read the 0-1 binary code. Through 3-D modeling, KVA designers developed the specific scheme for the position and extension of the headers. The result allows for dynamic shade and shadow, so that the bricks act as a sundial of sorts on sunny days. And during Rochester’s infamous winters, the protruding headers are accented by a coating of snow. The pattern “allows a visual performance to happen,” says Violich. “The brick pushes toward a crescendo as you move.” This is especially striking above the main entrance, where sunlight from the south activates the brickwork to create a dramatic effect. The north wall has a similar 3-D-modeled climax facing the path to the university’s landmark Rush Rhees Library.

When presented with something that is a standard, it offers the possibility for an unlikely condition for the material to find itself.

 

Wegmans Hall’s computer-generated design relied on old-fashioned craftsmanship for its execution. KVA had planned to lay the headers simultaneous with the stretchers, but the building’s lead brick contractor, named Ta, told Violich that the projecting bricks would impede his team’s work. He suggested temporarily inserting dry-laid brick headers flush with the stretchers. Once the wall was set, these were replaced with the projecting bricks. Violich acknowledges the benefit of working with experienced brick layers on this job. With the efficiency of these workers in mind, KVA designed just four brick pattern segment types. These four were flipped left to right and top to bottom to give diversity to the façade. KVA was not looking to produce a machined aesthetic in this building for machine learning. The firm had used brick in a very clean design; their Tozzer Anthropology Building for Harvard University necessitated extruded brick for extreme precision. But at Wegmans Hall the architects embraced the raw, mottled look and feel of the wood-molded 53-DD brick. They even replicated its imperfect character in interior materials— poured concrete floors, raw steel stairs, and CNC-routed plywood walls. The latter, used for the auditorium’s acoustic walls, revive the pixelated aesthetic of the façade. KVA punched them with holes for both aesthetics and purpose: walls with fewer holes reflect sound, and those with more holes open to speakers behind them.

Irregular holes are repeated for Wegmans Hall’s second-story office windows. The non-bearing brick here suggests the paper-thin characteristic of punched windows, which Violich compares to an early computer punch card. This brick section of the façade somewhat counterintuitively sits above a glass base holding multi-floor collaboration zones. Violich appreciates the irony. “The skin became a kind of wrapper,” he says, “that was then lifted up to reveal the base, and then the base became base-less.” The University of Rochester’s president, thankfully, liked this architectural play. And this spirited innovation is in line with KVA’s attitude toward Wegmans Hall’s brick. “When presented with something that is a standard,” Violich says, “it offers the possibility for an unlikely condition for the material to find itself.”

Project Details

Owner University of Rochester
Product

Glen-Gery, Molded Collection

53-DD

Architect

Kennedy & Violich Architecture, Ltd.

Design Team

Frano Violich, FAIA; Managing Principal

Sheila Kennedy, FAIA; Principal Consulting on Design

Alex Shelly, AIA; Project Architect/ Project Manager

Shawna Meyer, AIA, LEED AP; Project Architect

Ben Widger, Robert White, Belinda Valenti, Diana Tomova, Kyle Altman, Daniel Sebaldt, Allan Delesantro, Blair Ekleberry, Alex Gormley

Structural Engineer

BuroHappold Engineering

MEP & Envelope

IBC Engineering

Civil Engineer

T.Y. Lin

Contractor

Welliver

Code Consultant

Jensen Hughes Associates Inc.

Completed

2017