New Bennington College complex constructed with inspiration in mind

Posted
Tuesday July 19, 2011

BENNINGTON -- Bennington College recently opened a $20 million facilities addition that will house a unique, progressive curriculum challenging students to study and address the world’s most pressing problems.

The three-building complex, called the Center for the Advancement of Public Action, or CAPA, is faced with Vermont marble and includes state-of-the-art design and technology. The addition adds 15,000 square feet of construction to the campus, but the impact of the curriculum will be much greater on the student body, and potentially the world, said President Elizabeth Coleman.

"The idea that the world is telling you what you need to teach, that’s a new idea," Coleman said. "Issues like health, issues like education, these are all huge challenges that we are not effectively engaging in this country."

The citizenship curriculum invites students to study these topics and others that are significant today, such as global warming or equity, and will focus on the ongoing dynamic between public responsibilities and private ambitions.

Like all classes at the liberal arts college, CAPA will force students to guide their learning on the issues while making the topics the focus of their academic work, if they choose.

Coleman said she envisions the entire student body benefiting from the new offerings created by CAPA, but it will be the decision of students to become involved and at what level.

"The possibilities are multiple. For some students it will be something they do every now and then. For other students it will be an organizer of their curriculum, it will shape it, so the focus of what they do will be around the issue of advancement of public action," Coleman said. "How they organize, that is a huge challenge they will have to address."

"The CAPA student is likely to be an educated generalist, rather than a highly developed specialist," the president said.

The complex was designed by internationally renowned architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien. It has been in the making for more than two years.

In the main building is space for conferences and seminars, offices, a teachers’ lounge, and a walled-in courtyard with no roof but an eve providing shelter from the elements along the perimeter.

The second building consists of living accommodations for visiting lecturers and fellows active in the areas of public action who will be integral in the curriculum.

The smallest building, called "The Lens," provides space for mediation, contemplation and debate, as well as other uses Coleman said she is sure students come up with.

All three buildings are heated with a geothermal system. In addition to being practical, each is unique in design and elegance, decorated with pieces by artists such as renowned Dutch artist Claudy Jongstra.

The addition, located behind the Visual and Performing Arts Center in an area that was filled with trees and debris that used to make the Jennings Music Building appear to be separate from the rest of campus, ties the campus together.

"We were eager to make it clear that CAPA was integral to the college, deeply connected to it," Coleman said.

Funding for the complex came through donations of alumni and their families with the vision of CAPA in mind.

The college will have a grand opening Sept. 30, kicking the new active citizenship experience off with a panel discussion on health care.

Contact Dawson Raspuzzi at draspuzzi@benningtonbanner.com


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