NCC Monroe Campus: From Chipboard to Concrete
April 2008, I again find myself among the sleepless third-year architecture students anxiously awaiting the year’s end, with high expectations for the forthcoming summer. In addition to enjoying the warm weather, (and resuming normal sleep patterns), the summer months presented an opportunity to continue to exercise our creative skills, and get paid for it. Earlier that winter, I had secured a part-time internship to begin in May – it would be the first time I walk through the doors of MKSD architects.
One of the highlights of my experience that summer included the completion of a 1/64” scale site model for a new college campus. After several trips to the art store, the accumulating mass of basswood, brown chipboard, lichen, and moss had begun to clog one of two main aisles to the print room. It was not uncommon to find basswood sticks, (the makings for the tree trunks), scattered throughout the office after clinging to the bottom of a shoe. Within a week, three miniature buildings were assembled, set, and glued into more than twenty layers of chipboard, representing the vision for what one day, would become Northampton Community College’s new Monroe Campus.
The design encompasses a thriving new campus, featuring an array of classrooms, science and computer labs, art studios, student activity areas, a state-of-the-art library, food court, child care center, and gymnasium. To be located in Pocono Township, the three buildings are individual and architecturally significant, each with a carefully orchestrated assortment of stone, brick, metal panels, and glass curtain walls and openings to capture the picturesque beauty of the surrounding mountains.
In March 2011, several months after graduation and after working a temporary gig for a firm in Philly, I was again walking through the doors of MKSD about to begin my second term of employment with the company. You could imagine my excitement when I learned that I would have the opportunity to resume work on NCC’s Monroe Campus. By this time, most of the design was largely completed and another hand was needed to help begin construction documents. With so many unique and interesting conditions and details, the next seven months served as the perfect learning platform for a young emerging architect. At the time of my internship, my understanding of each of the building envelopes and layouts was limited, and based only on a few pinned up renderings I had seen and the chipboard skins I had assembled years prior. In the coming months, I learned how to produce various details and portions of the construction documents, and I saw each building come to life across the page.
By October’s end the bid documents were completed, and more than a year later, I saw them jump from the page to reality. To begin work on a project as an eager architecture student, and reprise a role in the same project two and a half years later as a fresh architecture grad, has been a unique, thrilling, and fulfilling experience. So this past February, when it was announced that a few more heads could accompany a site visit to Monroe during construction, I jumped at the chance.
We pulled up the rear entrance to the campus; I immediately forgot how hungry I was with the absence of lunch when I saw Building 2. There it stood, the bright green surface of the DensGlass sheathing almost seemed as if it were illuminating our entry to the construction site. For the next two hours, we trudged through thick mud, exhausting every possible vantage point for a photograph. I had neglected to bring a few necessary winter accessories, and with my hands continuously out of my pockets taking pictures, I could no longer feel them – but I didn’t care. Work on Building 3 had just begun, its plywood skeleton of concrete formwork crawling out of the ground. We sought warmth in Building 1, standing amongst the composition of metal and steel that would one day be the library. After occupying nearly every room, we threw our boots into the back of the truck, and headed back to the office. As we began our descent back to Route 715, I looked back at the masonry walls slowly receding from sight. It was as if I had just gotten acquainted with “someone” I had waited nearly five years to meet.