Enough Tupperware
by Leslie Lawrence '72

A Social Hub

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 to go.

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 slowly."

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."

Cultural Expression

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 design."

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 coming from.

Norine Dworkin is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. Contact her at norined@ix.netcom.com.
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