Opening the Bridge

By Elizabeth Randolph
Click on image to view a photo gallery of the Bridge for Laboratory Sciences
Click on image to view a photo gallery of the Bridge for Laboratory Sciences

After three years of construction—and nine years of planning—Vassar's new Bridge for Laboratory Sciences opened for classes on the first day of the spring semester, January 27, 2016. What was it like to finally inhabit Vassar's most eagerly anticipated building?

Professor of Chemistry Christopher Smart had the distinction of being the first faculty member to teach a class in the new building—8:30 am Organic Chemistry. “I made the first chalk marks ever on the pristine chalkboards in the BLS 109 classroom,” he proclaimed proudly. Though Smart reported that there were still many “details to be looked after, the general tenor of the department is one of great satisfaction and excitement. 

The coming months will be spent unpacking scores, if not hundreds, of boxes—organizing and the like,” said Smart. “But it is highly rewarding to be doing it in such a pleasant and well-conceived space. The building is a huge boon to the Chemistry Department, and, I hope, to the college as a whole.”

Take a quick tour of the Bridge with chemistry professor Chris Smart.
Take a quick tour of the Bridge with chemistry professor Chris Smart.

The excitement has spread far beyond the Chemistry Department, which will call the new building its home. There was a constant buzz of activity in the Bridge on the first day of classes and in the days that followed. 

The Bridge’s curved main corridor—rather like the spine of the new building—provides an accessible pathway for easy passage between the central campus and points south, including Skinner Hall, the South Parking Lot, and the Vassar Farm and Ecological Preserve. Many strolled through to get their first glimpses of the building’s attractive interior—its wood- and stone-covered walls, swanky modern light fixtures, and comfortable seating areas. They checked out the lab spaces, which are fully visible to passersby (perfect examples of “science in sight”). Between classes, students camped out on the first-floor corridor, enjoying the nicely situated tables, armchairs, and couches. Some administrators even broke with their routines to take meetings in the glass-lined hallway overlooking Skinner Hall, the Shakespeare Garden, and the Fonteyn Kill.  

A café—which serves sandwiches, salads, snacks, and a large variety of coffees and teas—was a definite enticement. And during the warmer months, a sizable outdoor patio adjacent to the café will provide even more gathering space for the campus community.

The completion of the Bridge for Laboratory Sciences marks the culmination of Vassar’s efforts to bring its science facilities more in line with Vassar’s forward-thinking curriculum. The larger construction project involved the renovation of New England, Olmsted Hall, and Sanders Physics, in addition to the new construction. All were designed by Ennead Architects.

The result? Vassar’s Integrated Science Commons—four buildings that now house the Biology, Chemistry, Cognitive Science, Computer Science, Physics and Astronomy, and Psychology departments, but also serve Biochemistry, Neuroscience and Behavior, Earth Science and Geography, and Environmental Studies.

President Catherine Hill says, “By bringing all of these faculty, facilities, and students into closer proximity, Vassar will better support collaboration among them.”

Watch for in-depth coverage of the multidisciplinary explorations enabled by the new construction in upcoming issues of Vassar magazine.