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Pitzer Participant - Spring 2005

Pitzer’s Buildings that ‘Teach’

The spring has been busy as Pitzer College continues to make progress with the planning and fund raising for the Residential Life Project. The City of Claremont has formally approved our Housing Master Plan. The design-build team of Carrier Johnson Architect and Bayley Construction has completed the schematic design and is working on final designs for the residence halls. And the Ralph M. Parsons Foundation has provided a prestigious grant of $250,000 to support the new Science Learning Community. In this issue of The Participant, we explore how buildings themselves play an essential role in the teaching process.

Architecture and Teaching

“When you build a thing you cannot merely build that thing in isolation, but must also repair the world around it, and within it, so that the larger world at that one place becomes more coherent, more whole.”
—Christopher Alexander

Buildings that Teach









For many, the most important features of a building are its square footage, room configurations, comforts and amenities. Little thought may be given to its local context or how its own design communicates ideas and community values. Making learning relevant to daily life, however, is a Pitzer axiom. And at a residential liberal arts college such as Pitzer, even our buildings have the capacity to challenge, inspire and teach us about ourselves and the world around us.

Many buildings—built for efficiency and simplicity—tell no real story about their social, cultural or ecological context; or perhaps they reveal a story of discontinuity between the building, its inhabitants, and the world around it. Pitzer College, however, is committed to going beyond the basics to create buildings that teach. The College is designing dynamic and inspirational architecture that connects students to each other and to the arid climate of Southern California. Buildings developed using principles of ecological design naturally take on a distinctive identity that communicates a vital sense of place and that fosters strong community. Pitzer will create buildings that teach by emphasizing local, renewable or recycled materials; limiting negative impacts on the environment; involving students in conservation activities such as recycling and riding bicycles; and exposing these sustainable features to residents so they understand how the building interacts with its environment.

Pitzer College will also create landscapes for learning—establishing gardens that use local and climate-adapted plants, natural materials, and water permeable surfaces that contribute to ecological sustainability while providing places for students to gather and learn. The College will expand the Rodman Arboretum to encompass the new residence halls, and in so doing create an outdoor “living classroom” to demonstrate sustainable landscaping practices.

In taking this approach, we are not only teaching our students to think about social responsibility, we are teaching the wider community about Pitzer’s core values. Our new architecture promises to offer an elegant expression of our beliefs while inspiring future generations of students to reach for yet higher ideals.

—Richard Chute ’84, director of capital projects


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