On Tuesday, Fairfield University’s Jesuits proudly displayed their new pad. It is a space that is simultaneously a residence, a community center, and a tribute to the environment.
Designed by New Haven architecture firm Gray Organschi, the building is constructed from metal, wood, glass and concrete. Much of the material is either recycled or sustainable. The design team, married couple Elizabeth Gray and Alan Organschi, worked for several months with the school’s Jesuit staff to create a place that met their needs and reflected modern ideals.
The two-story, 22,000 square foot residence boasts a closed loop geothermal heating and cooling system 400 feet underground, a roof garden that can absorb up to 95% of rainfall, and sustainable bamboo flooring.
But that’s not the coolest part. None of the surrounding trees were disturbed in construction, save one diseased and dying beech tree. Instead of scrapping it, the tree was locally milled and a good portion of it is hanging in the Great Room.
“For something that was considered waste,” said Organschi, “we were able to make it into something useful. The limbs were milled and joined to make a screen and an altar that will be put in place in a couple of weeks.”
While the altar will be placed in the building’s chapel, the remaining beech wood was also used to construct the front reception desk. Using the dead tree is such a way is at the core of the architecture firm’s philosophy. Gray Organschi will happily tell you they strongly believe in stressing the simplicity of developing a low-impact design and utilizing innovative technologies in the process.
Since the groundbreaking in April, the project completed within a matter of months. And after three years of deliberation over funding it and planning it, having the construction go quickly and smoothly was a major benefit. “The space was created on time and in budget,” said Reverend Walter Conlan, S.J., Rector of the Fairfield Jesuit Community, with a smile.
Conlan said the new building was meant to reflect the core values of the Jesuit order. And since their numbers have declined over the years, he felt it was most important to leave this kind of space behind.
Reverend Gilbert Sunghera, the project’s advisor and assistant professor for the university’s School of Architecture, said he helped find the architects and provide a smooth transition between the plans and the final outcome. The twelve resident Jesuits moved into the space only a few days ago. Sunghera echoed Conlan’s words that it already felt like home. “Even the bedrooms have a treehouse feel to it,” he said.
While the university has evolved over the years since its inception in 1942, this building is clearly its most modern. With its angular shape and unadorned cypress exterior, it is in stark contrast to its closest neighbor on the campus, Bellarmine Hall, and English manor-style estate house.
Sunghera said that even if the school wanted to build something like that, it just wouldn’t be possible. The expense of the materials alone would be a deterrent, aside from the fact that Bellarmine Hall didn’t have the same kind of sustainability efforts the new community center does.
The Jesuits consider themselves “stewards of the earth.” It seemed obvious to them to approach the project with an eye for the environment.
“This is a building of contemplation,” said Sunghera. “It allows us to observe and to help train people to see things in a new way. Those ideals are captured in its design.”
Like a newlywed couple excited about having the neighbors over for dinner, the Jesuits are tickled pink to be in their new place. They are looking forward to using the communal space for meetings, events, and lectures in the very near future.
Images courtesy of Fairfield University.