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Renowned architect retained for art center plans

By Barbara Brooks on July 3, 2012

Colgate University has partnered with David Adjaye, one of the world’s leading architects, to begin the design process for a new art and cultural center envisioned for the Village of Hamilton. In this initial phase of the project, Adjaye will meet with members of the community and study the proposed space. He will articulate a vision for the scope and scale of the structure and create a schematic design and budget that can be used for future planning discussions with the village, as well as fundraising.

Adjaye Associates is an internationally acclaimed practice with extensive experience in creating unique cultural spaces around the world. It was chosen from among 12 firms that responded to Colgate’s request for proposal (RFP), which called for “a distinctive and stirring architectural solution” for 18-20 Utica Street, the former site of Parry’s Hardware, a building now owned by the Hamilton Initiative.

David Adjaye will develop the schmatic for the future Colgate Center for Arts and Culture

David Adjaye will develop the schmatic for the future Colgate Center for Art and Culture

The Colgate University Center for Art and Culture (CAC) would be a visible and public extension of the university’s commitment to the arts. The RFP outlined the CAC as a flexible space accommodating a wide range of activities and audiences, with the potential to become a “transformative force in the university and the village of Hamilton.” Collections from Colgate’s Picker Art Gallery and Longyear Museum of Anthropology would be relocated to the new space.

Adjaye is renowned for his artistic sensibility and passion for collaboration and interdisciplinary dialogue. With offices in London, Berlin, and New York, he has been commissioned for prestigious residential, commercial, and educational projects in Africa, Europe, the Middle East, and elsewhere in the world. Presently, he is lead architect of the Freelon Adjaye Bond team for the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American Culture and History, which is scheduled to open in 2015 on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. He is also working on a neighborhood of several city blocks in Doha, Qatar, and an urban revitalization project integrating affordable housing, education, and cultural resources in Harlem’s Sugar Hill neighborhood.

For Adjaye’s firm, the Colgate project is appealingly “mid-scale,” much like the Bellevue and Francis Gregory public libraries he designed in Washington, D.C. Those projects, which have been called “inviting and engaging” and “sure to transform the communities they reside in,” were of particular interest to the committee that selected Adjaye from among the four firms they invited to campus to present their credentials.

“It was not just Adjaye’s significant talent and experience, but also his sensibilities about the importance of the surrounding environment and the impact his buildings can make on the people of a community, that led us to enthusiastic support of his selection,” said David Hale, Colgate’s vice president for finance and administration.

Adjaye said: “What is important to me about this scale of project is that it allows me to make very special, jewel-like buildings. I really love being able to engage the community, to talk about sustainability, to talk about creativity, to talk about innovation, outreach, and education.”

On a recent visit to Hamilton, Adjaye said that architecture, for him, is about two things: people and light. “To understand people’s interpretations — of home, public, civic, rural, urban spaces — has been fascinating because it’s different everywhere. And it’s also about light: the discourse of light is absolutely different to each latitude and longitude.”

In the coming months, Adjaye said he will research the angles and the colors of the light. “We do that scientifically,” he said, “but I also visit the site in different light conditions. I need to understand how people use the light that’s available to them in their day, and how they use their day.”

For Adjaye, who started his practice in foggy, grey London, Hamilton seemed ideal. “I spent a lot of time explaining to Londoners that there’s not a lack of light; it’s just a very different kind of light. Here in Hamilton, it’s luminescent.”



  • Drew Maddock '70 said:

    This seems like a wonderful idea. I wouldn’t mind another hardware store in town, though, as any small town needs one. That is my entirely practical side talking. My more artistic side says what a great idea to give Hamilton something impressive to look at and to visit to look at art. I do hope the basic needs of daily life are provided for in the village and not out in the sprawl of shopping plazas beginning to slowly grow outside town which quickly become eyesores and require a car to get to. At a beautiful college in a small town, it should be the town you can walk to that is the focus of upgrading. As the local Hamiltonians depend on Colgate in so many ways, Colgate needs to make Hamilton a wonderful and more modern place to live. It’s not the 19th century any more, people.

    I can’t see what the university has done to make the village less sustainable. On the contrary, what would have been a dying town in other parts of upstate New York remains very appealing. Despite the regular loss of many businesses, many of which cannot survive more than a few years (we are in a major recession), others do fine. Colgate’s influence on the Inn, the Barge Canal Coffee Shop and the Bookstore as well as the village green helps the village be a place to actually go to instead of to drive through.

    I do understand how local Hamiltonians might be wary of such a building and of Colgate’s influence in the village, in general. But I cannot understand why anyone living in the Victorian belt of largely decaying towns and citiies in upstate New York would not welcome new ideas.

    I remember when the Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute was the only decent reason to go to Utica. I certainly remember when the Dana Arts Center gave the stiff, old-fashioned Colgate campus a remarkable new appearance. And contrary to JP’s comment, the Dana Arts Center was in my day in the late 1960s the most wonderful thing about Colgate, a truly striking and pretty building. I know it’s called “brutalist” in style, but it never looked off-putting to me. It echoed the same grey stone of the rest of the campus, sat on a vast green lawn (after the snow melted anyway) at the base of the campus hill, and it housed wonderful music and art.

    Without the Dana Arts Center, Colgate would have been a bleaker place. I think it’s a wonderful looking building, much better than a few others on campus like old dreary-looking Lathrop Hall which was designed by some uninspired, formulaic 19th century hack, some of the newer unfortunately state-college-looking dorms that came out of some College Dorm Pattern Book and that bleak hospital that has been uglifying the south end of the campus for years.

    The Village of Hamilton, it’s always seemed to me, is much too close to the brick bleakness of the 19th century with none of the color and surprise you’d like to see. Where are the gardens, the benches, the small alleys, the unusual buildings, something odd and interesting? Not much of that in Hamilton, New York. I hope David Adjaye’s design is bright and appealing and makes no effort to overwhelm the village street but also doesn’t blend in, either. I can’t think of anything worse than to expect it to fit into some decayed model of Victorian brick, the bane of upstate New York buildings for well over a century. I’d love to see it stand out strikingly, and I hope it becomes a place people want to visit in a small university town. Hamilton could do much worse and end up with the usual clutter of Talbot’s, Starbucks, student bars, Ye Olde This and That stores, and other “college town” ugliness.

    I hope Adjaye comes up with an inspiring small-scale design that has warmth and appeal and gives a somewhat overly quaint and bland streetscape some really striking appeal.

  • Donald Lindeman '74 said:

    Dear JP: Actually, Dana Arts Center is a Modernist masterwork. The problem is, I think that many people have never really learned how to look at Modern architecture. Architecture is about form and space, and the architect Paul Rudolph (who also designed Yale’s School of Architecture building) knew what he was doing at Colgate. Actually, Yale’s building has recently been renovated and updated, winning plaudits from critics. For a while his work was considered too formalist, but a new generation of architects and students have come to admire his legacy–it’s about time! –Donald Lindeman, BA in Art History, ’74

  • JP said:

    The Dana Arts center has always been an eyesore and never fit into the rest of the campus. We don’t want another one like this for sure. It is very nice inside but is sorely lacking in usable square footage for the size of it – not to mention being disturbingly unbalanced and ungraceful on the outside. Let’s hope this new firm comes up with something which is based on usability studies.

  • Vickie Williams said:

    This is exciting! I would love to see Colgate offer intensive studio art workshops in the summer to go along with the development of Hamilton as an arts center. So many of our local resources are solely devoted to children’s art camps in the summer.
    Colgate could become a leader in providing this sort of learning/ mentoring for adults. It could be started as a part of the Summer On the Hill experience or be a separate week-long initiative.

  • Donald Lindeman '74 said:

    I for one am glad that architectural design remains controversial. Were it not, we might well imagine that the art of architecture had already died.

    It is up to the client to be demanding of the architect, in order to get the best possible design out of him or her. E.g. the Center for British Art, at Yale, by the late Louis Kahn, was subject to a series of revisions until both client and architect were happy with the building plans.

    To get a comprehensive idea of what David Adjaye has built so far, I’d suggest checking out the website of Adjaye Associates. Of the buildings there, I’d single out especially Rivington Place, London, 2007 (filed under Public Buildings), and Silverlight, London, 2007 (filed under Residential). Both designs reveal Adjaye’s ability to respond to context, and use materials in highly creative ways. (NB: to access content on the site, click on “Adjaye Associates” in the lower-left of the page.)


  • Meredith said:

    Since so many smart people I respect and admire (including Profs Kraynak and Berry) are keeping an eye on this, I’m feeling less overwhelmed by the plutocracy of Walgate. After Carol Ann Lorenz told me how she looks forward to having the Longyear collection in a more accessible location for the school children, I began to thaw. I would love it all to work out for the common good.

  • Wanda Warren Berry said:

    Having attended a meeting of the Village’s Zoning Board recently to hear the first presentation of the proposal for a Center for Arts and Culture in the former Parry’s location, I have several concerns when reading these comments. The Village Board of Trustees had asked the zoning committee to consider a proposal from “Colgate” for a use of the space that did not completely fit the “Business 1” zoning, since a “museum” would not be allowed in such a location without some kind of waiver. At that time, everyone was completely in the dark about just what was being proposed. So, my first recommendation is that the Hamilton Initiative or whoever is making this proposal give the village committee full information about the proposal before it meets again this week.
    Many concerns were aired at the meeting: loss of another property from the tax rolls, parking, damage to other businesses, the loss of the “old Hamilton.” I myself was favorably impressed by my first understanding of the project since in my 55 years of residence in the village and my long involvement with Colgate, I could see this as another step in trying to save the village from empty storefronts and from becoming only a place for students to “party”.
    My dear Meredith, and I do value your love for your hometown, your comments make me very sad. I love this village and this college; and I believe each of these beloveds needs the other to be strong and vibrant. The Hamilton Initiative together with the Partnership for Community Development together with Colgate have done much to restore and revitalize the village. The village streetscapes are beautiful– except for that one spot for which the new building is proposed (and the ugly medical building– Colgate didn’t do that!)
    Like many others, Colgate brought us here and we have paid taxes in the village all these years. When I first lived and a raised a family here, we did virtually all of our shopping in the village. But that also was when the first supermarket was built, small as it was. Step by step merchandising in the USA changed and so did Hamilton. When I came here, there was a grocery store on almost every corner and a meat market in the middle of Lebanon St. We shopped in all of them. Several excellent hardware stores stocked not only the usual necessities, but toys enough so that my children never received their Christmas gifts as a result of me going “on line” or even out of town. And there were two wonderful drugstores downtown.
    Then there were the really sad times when Broad St. presented almost nothing but empty storefronts. Was Colgate the cause of that? Or was it an absentee landlord who pushed up the rents?
    I cannot count how many businesses started and finally failed during the intervening years. This was not a result of “Colgate’s systematic oppression of our village.” It resulted from profound changes in the larger society. And when last holiday season I took my grandsons to shop downtown, telling them ironically about the “Where’s Wanda?” merchandising gimmick– and they found “Wanda” at Maxwell’s– taking it then to the Peppermill, I learned that most people to whom we told the story had paid no attention to the Business Alliance’s attempt to draw shoppers. Did Colgate cause that ignorance? Or is it that no one reads even the local papers.
    At the zoning meeting I expressed my sense that the proposal for what we thought that night was an arts museum was another step in strengthening Hamilton, as did, in the past, Colgate’s restoration of an important building to move the bookstore downtown. And I thought it would build on the growing arts community here, rather than compete with it. Hamilton can no longer sustain a classic retail district; but it has developed a vibrant arts community which such a museum would strengthen, rather than supplant.
    I wish Hamilton were proud of the fine college for which it is home. I wish the new village and town website expressed that pride, at least with one picture of the beautiful campus. We all know that Colgate needs the village to be vibrant and beautiful in order to continue to draw students and their parents here. We all know that the village needs Colgate as a primary employer and as the primary attraction to both permanent and temporary residents. There is much that we can do working together to keep and improve this beautiful place. I hope that as the plans for the new Arts and Cultural Center are revealed and discussed, I will continue to be enthusiastic about it.

    Wanda Warren Berry
    Professor of Philosophy and Religion, emerita
    Proud resident of the Village of Hamilton for 55 years

  • Bob Kraynak said:

    I think people should take a close look at the buildings designed by Adjaye architects, like the Francis Gregory Public Library in DC or those posted on their website.

    The library is like 1950’s modernism, resembling a diner or fast food shoppe – not so appropriate for downtown Hamilton.

    Other buildings look like cubist dungeons – like the Eaton street medical building, which most people find dreary.


    The best design would blend existing styles with new styles, like the Palace Theatre, which nicely combines brick and art deco. This is the debate we need to have, with local citizens and so-called experts collaborating to find something that fits downtown Hamilton with good taste and style.

  • Meredith said:

    Mr. Solomon: I would love to have the opportunity to discuss with you the many reasons why the people in my community — your community is London — do not welcome this vanity project or any of the previous steps in Colgate’s systematic oppression of our village that you may consider to be noblesse oblige.

  • Steve Solomon '76 said:


    I detect a couple of threads in your message and would like to reflect further.

    I think it’s safe to say that all constituents want to sustain and develop the vibrancy of culture in our community. This is where organization, leadership, and support specifically for the arts can and should intersect..

    Further, we might as well recognize that when it comes to commercial proprties change is inevitable. There will be new tenants. They will be challenged to meet the community’s needs and then take it from there. In the meantime let’s plan on wishing them well.

    Good luck with your own support of the arts and, in particular, your pursuit of grants! It seems to me that Colgate’s investment in this new gallery in the center of Hamilton is inspired and timely. It will definitively represent a big step in the cultural development of the wider community which is, after all, our mutual interest.

  • Meredith said:

    For those Colgate alums and administrators who didn’t know, our village has hardly been a cultural vacuum. There has been a flowering of the arts in our village for over a decade through MAD art and the Hamilton Center for the Arts, the Broad Street Gallery, as well as the Earlville Opera House gallery ten minutes away supplying classes and gallery space to local artists — please forgive me if I’ve left anyone else out.

    We are glad that you have such a wealth of corporate resources to devote to this grand new venture and ask that you be more considerate about applying for arts education grant funding than you have in the past, so that the community art and cultural centers already in place, that we “townies” have worked so hard to build, can continue.

    Whether or not our local artists meet elevated academic standards or won prestigious awards or not, this is not the point of art. We need our own places to create, display, gather and learn. Two iconic, privately-owned businesses (Sushi Blues and Crowe’s Drug Store) have closed this month alone, leaving two more empty storefronts in our tiny village. Some of their loss of profit can be tied to Colgate’s ceaseless drive for control of a paltry local economy. You all know this to be true.

    True art comes from hard-working people with passionate hearts, not from academics, administrators or bankers — so no matter how many millions you spend, you can never be a cultural force in our community.

  • Barbara Brooks said:

    Yes! and the old car-sized elevator is there to prove it!

  • Dick Leland said:

    That is the location that years ago was my great Uncle Everett Leland’s Ford Sales garage! 🙂

  • Donald Lindeman said:

    David Adjaye is a very good choice for this project. He is one of a cohort of especially fine British architects, and his work has not turned “corporate” so-far. He is avant-garde, but does not avoid context. He has also built in the U.S. previously, including, a museum, in Denver.

    I do hope that his contribution shall be more than the development of a “schematic” proposal, and that he will be kept on as the design architect (it would be unfortunate PR, I think, were he not).

    Also, we should remember that the Dana Arts Center, while demonstrably modern, a kind of “machine-in-the-garden” formalist composition, has aged gracefully, is beautifully sited, and should be preserved as part of Colgate’s legacy, and the legacy of the great American architect Paul Rudolph (designer of Yale’s School of Architecture building).

    David Adjaye is the son of a Ghanaian diplomat, and from the age of nine has lived primarily in Great Britain. He was educated in excellent private (or, as they would say “public”) schools, and since starting his practice, has risen to prominence with uncommon speed. Congrats to Colgate for bringing a world talent to this endeavor.
    From my perspective, this is how it should be.

  • Steve Solomon '76 said:

    This is a most desirable location- directly across the street from the Colgate bookstore on the main north-south thoroughfare of Hamilton.

    Bringing the arts to town is smart. With the Colgate Inn’s 2011 renovation as a destination property, the large, appealing and functional bookstore, the comfortable Barge and the various dining options of town, this center for the arts will be welcoming, enriching and inspirational. Can’t wait to see the plans and, in time, the traffic enjoying the exhibits!

  • Barbara Brooks said:

    Mr Leland: The proposed location is 18-20 Utica Street, the former site of Parry’s Hardware. The building is now owned by the Hamilton Initiative. Thank you for asking.

  • Dick Leland said:

    Just where will this building be located?

  • Cheryl Jonsson said:

    Thank you to those within Colgate University and, the Village of Hamilton who, passionately believe this vision for the Arts could become a reality!