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Rochester Institute of Technology

School of Photographic Arts & Sciences

Rochester, New York

RIT’s School of Photographic Arts & Sciences (SPAS) is one of the top ranked programs in the country. The 3rd floor of Gannett Hall, considered to be the heart of SPAS, had not been significantly renovated since its construction in 1965. It consisted primarily of outdated dark rooms, antiquated lab space, and narrow corridors with little access to natural light. The main goal was to enhance the environment and create new spaces that better showcase their state-of-the-art curriculum.

SPAS sought efficient open space for laboratory functions and instruction, a large multi-use ‘lounge’, updated dark rooms, a sound capture room, and an equipment ‘cage’, a central hub for students to check out various photographic equipment. In addition, to better showcase the student’s work process, they wanted transparency from the corridors into the educational spaces.

The floor plan was organized to cultivate more natural light, and promote straight-forward circulation. An access path was created to connect a newly built adjacent building to the north. This ‘surgical’ move was strategically designed to stitch the corridors together in a manner that avoided structural impediments, mitigated floor elevation deviations, and minimize impact to program spaces. The new axis created by this intervention generated a subtle, skewed, rectilinear geometry, and established the location for the highly trafficked equipment cage.

The interactive cage counter, emphasized by striated wood ceiling and wall panels, leads to the new multi-use lounge, a common gathering and work space for students and faculty. Centered upon existing south-facing storefront, the expansive lounge allows natural light to permeate deep into the floor plate.

To achieve a more spacious atmosphere throughout the renovated areas, the suspended ceilings were removed, exposing the concrete structure and utilities above. Clear storefront was installed along the corridors to enhance visibility, light transmittance, and further expand the perception of space.

A simple, industrial aesthetic is the backdrop for the presentation of student work. Limited accents of color, texture, and natural wood are sensitively introduced to balance the austerity. And ringed light fixtures, emulating camera lenses, articulate the primary circulation nodes. The result is a rejuvenated learning environment for an evolving artform that is steeped in tradition.