Connecticut College’s transformation of Palmer Auditorium into the new Athey Center for Performance and Research has been honored with a Merit Award for design from AIA Connecticut in the commercial, industrial, educational and multi-family residential design category.
The historically informed renovation of the 1939 art deco building, originally designed by William F. Lamb, reinforces the Athey Center’s central role as a space for assembly, artistic production and teaching. Led by Ennead Architects, a New York City-based architectural firm that specializes in performance spaces, the project preserved and improved upon the building’s stunning design with better egress and sightlines, more comfortable seating, enhanced flooring, state-of-the art acoustic technology, more natural light, and a more open and welcoming entrance, as well as mechanical systems for lighting, heating and cooling that reflect the highest standards of energy efficiency.
The revitalized Athey Center, which officially opened in April, serves as a hub of innovation on campus, encouraging performance and dialogue on critical issues, promoting pioneering artistic production and research, attracting world-renowned artists-in-residence, fostering cross-disciplinary teaching and scholarship, and helping to advance the work of Connections, Conn’s signature integrative learning curriculum.
“Working within the existing art deco building, our approach was to find ways to strategically carve-out additional space to better support collaboration, exploration, performance and teaching,” said Ennead Associate Principal Brian Masuda. “Stylistically, the new design elements enhance the overall sense of materiality, color and patterning associated with this style, by drawing inspiration from some of the original fixtures and motifs found throughout the building.”
By renovating rather than building a new structure, the College honored its commitment to sustainability while also preserving a historic landmark. The architects calculated that a new construction would have produced 145,000,000 CO2 emissions/kg more embodied carbon than the renovation. This is equivalent to the CO2 emissions from the electricity usage of more than 28,000 homes in a year.
The AIA Connecticut Design Awards recognize design excellence of built and unbuilt work in Connecticut, or by Connecticut-based firms. In its announcement of the 2022 award winners, the AIA Connecticut jury called the Athey Center project a “very fine renovation, with clear objectives to honor the past,” and an “impressive refresh that still feels true to nice aspects of the original design.”
The $23 million project was funded through gifts to the College, including a $10 million grant from the Sherman Fairchild Foundation and a $10 million gift from Nancy Marshall Athey ’72 and Preston Athey.