At the moment, Ruiz's latest artistic expression, the new Learning
Resource Center at Quinsigamond Community College in Worcester, Massachusetts,
exists solely as a model and a set of drawings in his office at the
Boston firm Einhorn, Yaffe, Prescott, where he toils as an architect
and project manager. In the Internet Age, building a library seems
almost passé. But here, there was an undeniable need. The school's
existing library is housed in a cramped gymnasium, and (it's said)
students often study in their cars because they have no place else
But when it breaks ground in August, the Learning Resource Center
is meant to be far more than a repository for printed and digital
matter or even a study hall and tutoring venue. Building this library
marks the first step in shaping this small commuter school's sense
of community. "The library will become the impromptu
student center, the living room of the campus, the place where students
come to hang out," says Ruiz, who helped design the building
and is now overseeing its completion.
Deciding how and where the library would fit into the campus terrain
was the primary consideration. "We're placing the library in
a way that will start to develop a quadrangle," Ruiz explains.
"Right now, the existing buildings are all scattered about the
campus. One of the things we've also done is to help the college identify
where the next building should go in 10 or 20 years when it's ready
to build another one to help finish the quadrangle. This will add
to the character of the campus. But you're playing your pieces very
For the building itself, Ruiz worked closely with lead designer Neil
Martin and principal Charles Kirby, continually tweaking and refining
the design. "You keep doing versions, fleshing out what the building
is going to be. We throw ideas out to each other and banter back and
forth. You start to see that maybe that element doesn't quite work
or this element is too high or this looks too chunky."
For Quinsigamond, the result is a sleek, high-tech building with curving
lines that somehow marries the concepts of a state-of-the-art learning
center and a really cool, comfortable place to hang out. Key to the
design are the building's all-glass front and a glass tower that will
house a cybercafé ("Sort of like A Level") and two
reading lounges. "The glass allows the light within the building
to serve as a beacon, drawing people in," Ruiz says. "When
you're walking by, you can see your friends there. Instead of going
straight to your car to go home, maybe you stop in and say hello.
That all emphasizes that this is the gathering place."
Naturally, the center will also do its job as a library. Uppermost
in Ruiz's mind was providing public and private study areas to facilitate
how students learn, both in groups and by themselves. "This is
something I learned at Oberlin," Ruiz says. "Mudd Center
has a variety of spaces, from A Level to the womb chairs to the courtyard
spaces on the second floor to the more focused spaces and carrels
on the upper levels. The elements are here for providing for the different
modes of learning."
Some architects are lone-wolf Howard Roark types, but Ruiz, who studied
art history/studio art at Oberlin, then earned his master's degree
at the University of Washington's College of Architecture and Urban
Planning in Seattle, relishes the team approach. "My creative
side is always being challenged by my more analytical side,"
he says. "So any hesitation I may have with my creativity is
mediated by the people I work with. I really like hashing out problems
in groups, offering suggestions, and fighting for ideas. In some ways,
that's a very Oberlin thing to do. Once you put out your idea and
elicit criticism, it forces you to know what you believe about your
Over the years, Ruiz has worked on all types of projects, from the
Seattle Mariners' new baseball stadium to a cozy five-star inn, from
a center for people with mental disabilities to a multi-million dollar
home for one of the Microsoft founders ("not Bill"). But
always he has sought to express how buildings mesh with their surroundings.
"Of course, I'm not advocating that we design gargoyles for our
buildings," he laughs. "But I do think that the details
of a building can be expressed in a way that's relevant to our culture
today, our civic culture."
And if you can appreciate that, then you know exactly where Ruiz is
Dworkin is a freelance writer and editor in New York City.
Contact her at email@example.com.