Education

REBUILDING SHU: Architects' Designs Blend Old, New to 'Bring Back Look' of President's Hall

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Marshall Hall was built in 1880s in a Romanesque style. Originally the campus library, the terra cotta relief sculptures show books and pomegranates, an expression of diffusion of knowledge. Credits: Angelica G. Avendaño
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A mock-up of Stafford Hall’s new exterior provides an idea of how the new building will match with President’s Hall. Credits: Angelica G. Avendaño
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President’s Hall encompasses classic architecture with a “homey” feel, especially during the holidays.
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SOUTH ORANGE, NJ – Seton Hall’s campus is rich in history, with a number of buildings dating back to the 19th century, including President’s Hall, Marshall Hall, Stafford Hall, the Immaculate Conception Chapel and the Carriage House of the old Elphinstone estate—a national historic landmark.

The preservation of these historic buildings lends parts of the campus an authentic collegiate charm. However, the growth of the university over the years has caused an architectural dilemma.

The addition of new buildings throughout the years has left the campus with an array of eclectic architectural styles ranging from Gothic Revival to the downright homely. With several major building projects about to get underway on campus, it will be a pressing task to blend the new with the old while respecting the past and accommodating all the most current technology.

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As enrollment has increased over the years, additional structures were often built in the popular contemporary style, which unfortunately wasn’t always timeless. Around the mid-1930s, there came a tradition of university presidents establishing a vision of what they wanted Seton Hall to be. Each left his mark with a new structure usually, though not always, built in brown or beige brick in order to match or complement President’s Hall as well as the university’s other original buildings.

 “When you look around campus, all of the dorms, the science center and the rec center are brown and beige brick,” said Monsignor Robert Wister, professor of church history at Seton Hall. “They’re done in a modern style, which is fine, because the bricks blend in with the theme of President’s Hall. As you come down the dorms, the modern brown brick leads to President’s and will eventually lead to a new student center that fits right in to that style.”

One of the first major projects to get underway will be replacing Stafford Hall with a new academic building designed in a style that complements its immediate neighbor, President’s Hall. Wister described the architectural style as Gothic Revival, but with modern elements.

The original Stafford Hall was built in 1863 and had to be rebuilt after a fire in 1889. After a second fire in 1909, the first floor was rebuilt and a peaked roof was placed over it, which is the stunted version of the structure that remains today.

Starting this summer, Stafford will be torn down and rebuilt with 12 new classrooms. The building will be connected to President’s Hall and Marshall Hall on three levels and will have elevator access, which was not available before in any of the buildings. The addition of the elevator will make all three structures comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act without requiring major alterations to the two historic structures.

“The great difficulty with any historic building is bringing it up to current compliance,” Wister said. “By having the connections and the elevator in the new building…you maintain the historic character of President’s and Marshall and you have handicap accessibility.”

According to Tracy H. Gottlieb, vice president of student services, elevator access will greatly improve the working conditions in President’s Hall.

“(President’s) is not the best place to work, frankly,” Gottlieb said. “If you try to climb the stairs you’re huffing and puffing. The pitch of the building is such that it creates a situation where you’re gasping for breath when you reach the top.”

The new Stafford Hall will share a brown façade with President’s Hall but it will be made entirely of concrete instead of sandstone.  The base of Stafford, however, will be capped in sandstone to create a coordinated look. 

Another new structure that is expected to have a great impact on the overall look of the campus is the new University Center that is expected to get underway in 2016. The current building was built in the early 1960s and is covered in a glossy white brick that clashes with the dominant style of the campus.

KSS Architects of Princeton, which has already designed buildings for several New Jersey colleges, including Princeton, Kean and Drew, has been selected to design the new university center. John Signorello, Seton Hall’s associate vice president for planning and facilities, is in charge of overseeing all the new construction projects. He said Seton Hall is now striving for a more uniform and traditional look.

“What the university is trying to do,” Signorello said, “is bring back the architecture that was started on campus in terms of the look of President’s Hall.”

The new university center is being designed to function as a central hub for the university community.

“We want to create gathering spaces for our students,” said A. Gabriel Esteban, university president. To make way for the new university center, the current center and a nearby building, Duffy Hall, will be torn down.

Duffy Hall was built in 1946, with a pebble-covered annex added  in 1974. The combined structure served as Seton Hall Prep until 1985. It currently houses the campus bookstore as well as offices, a lounge, and several classrooms.

Gottlieb, who was a student on campus when the Duffy Hall annex was built, said she is not sad to see it go, claiming the modern-style addition left the university community appalled.

“It was pretty awful from the outset,” Gottlieb said.  

This series was reported and written by the Advanced Reporting class at Seton Hall University. This article was written by Angelica G. Avendaño, a May 2013 graduate.

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