Campus News

High Tech and History Merge in OCS's New Hubbard Location

Story posted September 19, 2001

While the architectural style of Hubbard Hall may be steeped in the past (17th-century Gothic, like many of the buildings at Oxford and Cambridge), the building's original purpose was modern (as a state-of-the-art library) and its sights were set on the future.

One hundred years later, on the second floor of Hubbard, the present and future are once again mixing with the past as the Outreach and Customer Service leg of Computer/Information Services (including REACH and the Help Desk) has moved to the historic "Alumni Room." Training, Purchasing, Student Services, and the offices of Bob Mayer and Rebecca Sandlin join REACH and the Help Desk in the new space.

OCS's move necessitated a renovation of the room, which has been both restored to its original splendor, and refurnished to accommodate the advanced technological needs of its staff and clients. The transformation is a fascinating blend of the future and the past, as high tech, modern furniture finds itself contrasting with the room's original woodwork, glassed-in bookcases, bay windows, and chandelier.

"We've superimposed a state-of-the-art furniture system onto a historical room," says architect Malcolm (Mac) L. Collins of SMRT. "The most interesting thing about reusing old buildings is contrasting the old with the new....It's a great opportunity for CIS to enhance their image on campus."

While in 1901 then-president William DeWitt Hyde and Hubbard's architect Henry Vaughn could never imagine a room filled with computer equipment, one suspects they would be thrilled to know the Alumni Room continues to play a crucial role as the site of one of the campus's busiest hubs.

"The new space is where most of the walk-in traffic will be," says Bob Mayer, CIS director. Among faculty, staff, and students, more people than ever drop in to OCS these days with questions about laptops, for software installations and hardware service, and with peripheral requirements. The new high-tech look of the office reinforces that CIS is a dynamic and advanced technological environment.

OCS's new space allows them to run more efficiently and effectively.

"REACH and the Help Desk, which are now side-by-side, will really be able to work as a team," explains Rebecca Sandlin, manager of outreach and customer service. "The new location facilitates training, and allows all our equipment, tools, and resources to be housed in one area, rather than spread out all over. Now when you drop in, you know that a person to help you will be right there in that one location. If the person at the desk can't answer your question, someone else will be nearby and on hand to assist."

Remaining in the basement of Hubbard are Network Operations, Telecommunications, the Computer Store, and the server room, which is doubling in size. (Administrative Computing, room 208's former resident, has moved temporarily to Jewett Hall.)

The History of Hubbard 208
During its construction, diagrams for Hubbard's two chief floors were reproduced in the Report of the President of Bowdoin College 1900-01, and show room 208 labeled "Alumni Room." According to Hyde's report, "the Alumni room containing 1,300 square feet of floor space is intended as a rallying place for the graduates of the college at Commencement. It will contain in separate cases the publications of the alumni, class albums, and memorials, such as those presented by the Classes of 1853 and 1867. It will also serve as a room for the shelving and exhibition of books on art."

The room boasts a soaring arched ceiling (the building has a very steeply pitched roof) and beautiful lead-paned oriel windows extending from waist level to ceiling. The curving window seats in the large bays on either end of the room are built into formidable stone walls, adding to the room's overall grandeur.

The built-in book shelving, constructed a century ago to hold all of those alumni records and art books, has regained its original lead-paned glass doors, which for some time had been stored in the Hubbard attic. Wood paneling, faded from the sun and from time, has been re-stained and varnished to bring back its original color and sheen. Partitions covering the bay windows, which had been installed to accommodate the needs of the room's previous tenants, have been removed. Sunlight now pours through the huge windows, and adds to the restored grandeur of the room. (George Paton, Facilities Management, had installed the false walls in such a way that they could easily be removed, so none of the original walls had been defaced in either the installation or the removal.)

The Modern Workspace
Welcome to the "anticubicle" workspace now enjoyed by the residents of room 208. The new floor plan of OCS's office accommodates two managers' areas, 10 work stations, and two reception stations set up in patterns called "constellations" which maximize floor space and can be clustered and mixed to best support individual or group work. The high-tech furnishings are Herman Miller's "Resolve" System, designed by Ayse Birsel, who used honeycombs, bubbles, and even molecules for inspiration.

With its boomerang-shaped work surfaces, canopies, ladder shelving, and mobile file bins, the workspaces are designed to support complex technology and modern work habits. And the work surfaces are durable enough to handle the weight of any computer hardware placed on workstations or plopped down on the Help Desk.

"Resolve" is a pole-based, not a panel-based system, and uses about one-quarter of the components required in a traditional cubicle environment. Overhead cable troughs carry power and data to poles and between workstations, keeping wiring off the floor and out of people's way, and also makes the workstations more flexible. Some poles are "power poles" so computers and other technology can be hooked up above, below, or at workstation level.

The colors in the room range from metallic silver and red cherry to pebble beige, soft white, and black umber. Upholstery on guest benches at workstations features a famous 1947 textile design, "Circles" by Charles and Ray Eames.

To top it off, the furniture is environmentally friendly. Workstations are almost entirely recyclable, with a high-recycled original content.

While new task lighting is installed in each workstation, other lighting solutions will be incorporated into the room's historic system. It is planned that the large chandelier suspended from the center of the ceiling will be restored, and upgraded with hidden halogen fixtures to bounce light off the ceiling down into the room.

An acoustician-Carl Rosenberg of Acentech, Cambridge, Mass.-has been consulted about the room's unique ability to carry even the slightest sound from one end to the other (thanks to the great arched ceiling). But the room will not be defaced in any way should the installation of acoustical panels be required.

Architect Mac Collins is thrilled with the completed project, which captured his interest from the very start: "It was a matter of just walking in and seeing the potential in the room....It's almost unlike any other room on campus." He was immediately struck by the possibilities in restoring the two great bay windows and the "incredible" carved doorway arch.

The room will soon be photographed and featured in an article published by the Herman Miller company.

An open house to show off both the room and the latest in computer equipment will be held Parents' Weekend in October.

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