A New Building Type for U.S. Campuses

The various threads of college life are woven together in one signature building

Located at the heart of Goucher College’s Baltimore campus is the new Athenaeum, a groundbreaking facility that’s unlike anything most U.S. colleges and universities are building today. 

Designed by RMJM, the Athenaeum is the new sustainable flagship building on Goucher’s campus, weaving together the various threads of life at the college in one signature building.

The 103,000-square-foot, 4-story sustainable building is open 24/7 and features a technologically superior library; a spacious open forum for performances, public discussions, and other events; a café; an art gallery; a center for community service and multicultural affairs programming; a radio station; an exercise studio; and spaces for conversation and quiet reflection and relaxation.

“The Athenaeum is Goucher College’s crowning jewel,” says Goucher College President Sanford J. Ungar. “It’s a buzzing hive of activity and a common point of connection among all members of our community and visitors to our campus.”

The design and detailing of the Athenaeum is inspired by the modernist, crafted aesthetic for which the Goucher campus is well known. It’s clad in glass, Butler stone, redwood, and copper – the predominant materials found in Goucher’s buildings. The interior is constructed from terrazzo, white oak, redwood, carpet, and glass.

Modeled after the amphitheatres of Europe, the Athenaeum’s Hyman Forum is a wide-open space designed to accommodate various kinds of readings, performances, panel discussions, and other public events. Video monitors around the forum will draw in visitors to watch unfolding world events, film, and simulcasts of campus programs. 

“Goucher’s new Athenaeum represents a new type of campus building: the student forum,” says Gordon Hood, RMJM’s principal and director of the Global Education Studio. “With origins in ancient Greece and Rome, the classical forum focused on promoting exchange of ideas, goods, and commerce. This concept evolved in response to the needs of the millennial generation. At Goucher’s Athenaeum, the forum combines academic and social functions to create a place where creative thought and experience intersect.”

A college’s library is its intellectual cornerstone, and Goucher’s new library is at the heart of the Athenaeum. The new library expands the college’s collection capacity for a total of 450,000 volumes. It’s fully wired with state-of-the-art equipment, including new computer workstations in a 24/7 computer lab and digital arts video-editing stations.

“The emphasis on the library’s physical presence is because it provides a variety of environments that are difficult to find elsewhere on campus,” says Joseph C. Rizzo, RMJM principal and senior library planner. “The library in the Athenaeum is a great place to collaborate and create, but it’s also the best place to find a contemplative retreat to do focused undisturbed work away from noisy dorm rooms and myriad other distractions.”

The library’s layout reflects time-honored and tech-savvy approaches to study and research, providing ample quiet space for those who wish to browse the stacks as well as areas where students can search for information online, either alone or in clusters. The entire Athenaeum is a wireless hub, allowing students to use laptops to connect to campus networks and the Internet from anywhere.

Goucher College and RMJM approached every aspect of the Athenaeum project with an eye toward sustainability. The project, which is seeking LEED Silver, incorporates a number of sustainable design features, including two green roofs, a rain garden, high-performance glass, recycled materials, and innovative mechanical systems of optimal efficiency.