Originally constructed in the Beaux Arts style for $50,500, New England opened January 8, 1902 as the new laboratory space for biology, physiology, mineralogy, and geology. In 1973, with the construction of Olmstead Hall to accommodate the modernized equipment needs of the biology department, New England became home to the multi-disciplinary programs of American Culture, Women’s Studies, Africana Studies, and Environmental Studies. The contemporary project science center project (beginning 2013) returns New England, now home to the Psychology and Cognitive Science departments, to its scientific origins.
Acknowledging the importance of the preservation of the building’s history, Ennead Architects were committed to restoring the “architectural integrity of the original space.” During the renovation all non-original parts were removed, and all that was left was restored. As such the renovated building looks and feels a lot like it did when it first opened: a skylight that had been removed during a previous renovation was custom-fabricated and installed and the main staircase includes its original rails and treads.
The renovation of New England has also focussed significant attention on alterations to reduce the monetary and ecological costs of the building’s energy, water, and waste systems. Energy use (which includes both electricity and heat) has been reduced by 17% over pre-renovation figures, which equates to a 10% reduction in the energy cost of the building each year. This reduction has been achieved through the installation of the new skylight which significantly brightens the main atrium, occupancy sensors which turn room lights off when people leave, energy-saving lights, and an energy recovery system which reduces the heating requirements of the building.
The amount of potable water needed for irrigation around the building has been reduced by 39% (17,000 gallons/yr) with the pairing of rain sensors and drip-irrigation with native plants adapted to the climatic region in which Vassar sits. The water saved on irrigation alone could provide 34,000 people with drinking water for an entire year! Within the building itself, low flow fixtures will reduce potable water consumption by 25%/year, saving an additional 7,000 gallons.
Lastly, 75% (654,188 tons!) of the waste generated during construction was diverted from landfills. The existing roof, walls, and floors of the buildings were retained to reduce the need for new materials, and an effort was made to source all materials brought into the building in a way that was both socially responsible and environmentally sound.