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Architect reveals plans for Center for Arctic Studies and Mills Hall

February 28, 2020

Dudley Coe is coming down, along with dozens of pine trees. In its place, HGA—a Minneapolis-based architecture firm—envisions new buildings inspired by arctic landscapes and constructed with sustainable design principles.

In presentations on Tuesday and Wednesday, project architect Nat Madson of HGA brought Barry Mills Hall and the new Center for Arctic Studies (CAS) to life, explaining in vivid detail the plans for the two projects. Mills Hall, the larger of the two buildings, will be an academic building offering classroom space for the Digital and Computational Studies program, collaborative research space where students and faculty can work together and a 300-person event space. The red-brick building will be chevron-shaped, like an arrow pointing towards the main quad, and will fit in aesthetically with the warm-hued structures that dominate Bowdoin’s campus.

On the other hand, the CAS, which will contain six offices, several classrooms, an archeology lab and two expansive gallery spaces for the collection of the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum, will look unlike most other buildings on campus. Built with a dark grey stone called waterstruck brick, it will be angular, asymmetrical and steeply gabled, resembling a Teflon peak on an arctic ice field. A large rectangular window, where a stand-out feature on the mostly windowless building, will light up like a beacon at night.

“[The Center for Arctic Studies] is more introverted, it’s more sort of abstract and mysterious,” Madson said Wednesday. “It has a kind of dark material palette, especially when compared to the sort of warmer brick and wood pallet Mills [Hall].”

The architects considered both aesthetics and sustainability when choosing the materials for the frames of the buildings, eventually settling on mass timber, a generic term for wood panels laminated together. This choice made sense given the environmental goals of the project and by the surrounding pines, but was also an expensive one.

As of now, Madson explained, there are no mass manufacturers of cross laminated timber (CLT) and no commercial buildings made from CLT in the entire state of Maine. Bowdoin’s construction project, however, received one of 10 federal grants dedicated to researching mass timber as a construction strategy. Using CLT will reduce the carbon footprint of the building’s construction to less than a quarter of what it would have been if a steel frame had been chosen.

When asked about the projected carbon footprint of the buildings once construction has been completed, Madson explained that choices about the energy and heating systems will be made further down the line, but both buildings will be entirely electric. Mills and the CAS could potentially have a net zero carbon footprint if connected to renewable energy systems.

He also noted that 54 trees will be cut down to make room for construction. Eighty-five additional trees will be planted as a replacement, with increased species diversity and a more robust undergrowth.


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