In D.C., Restoring a Collegiate Gothic

People / Places / October 20, 2014

One of the signature buildings on The Catholic University of America’s campus in Washington, D.C. has undergone a sensitive renovation at the hands of SmithGroup.

The Tudor Gothic structure, part of a master plan designed in 1914 by Murphy & Olmstead, originally offered student meals in its Great Hall, with dormitories above.

Over time, academic and administrative activities evolved into the space; then two modern wings were added, one in 1960 and another in 1962. For a time, a Rathskeller occupied its basement.

Now Father O’Connell Hall is back to serving students, including prospective and current ones, as well as alumni.

“The idea was to consolidate enrollment and admission and financial services groups, so it’s a one-stop shop,” says Jerry Conrad, associate vice president of facilities operations.

Prospective students walk into a theater area and an interview room for the admissions process. Current students can look up classes and financial aid. Alumni services are there too, and its tower section now houses administrative offices.

“It’s all cohesive – prospective, current and past students are all in one building,” he says. “There are more efficiencies, and it’s all under one roof.”

A three-year design process addressed a building showing a century of wear and tear, and updated it – while holding onto its heritage.

“The assignment was to take this building and restore it but convey the history and mission of the university,” he says. “It’s such a beautiful campus and landscape – and this building looks out to it. That’s who we are out there, so we wanted to bring that inside, through materials, texture and colors.”

Like the limestone, bronze and wood from the original design.

“They used the wood in panels in a strategic way in the new space, and the language and pattern in a conceptual way,” he says. “The wood used in the great hall is heavily dark-stained oak, and they used it in the trim work in the receptionist’s desk, the elevator and the ceiling. Then they repeated it throughout.”

All in all, it’s a modern touch for a classical building that anchors the campus.

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Mike Welton

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