Spelman College, Center for Innovation & the Arts
Founded in 1881, Spelman is a historically Black college and a global leader in the education of women of African descent. This new center is designed to amplify Spelman’s existing strengths in the arts and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) by setting up interactive relationships among these disciplines in a learning environment centered on collaboration.
The first building to be located just outside the campus’ historic walls, the center is also designed to welcome the public into Spelman’s vibrant mix of people, ideas, and art—strengthening the college’s commitment to positive social change by forming new connections between higher education and the Westside Atlanta community.
The building’s upper floors are organized around two distinct hubs for collaboration. The first, located at the prominent southwest corner, is the light-filled Innovation Lab—an interdisciplinary maker space where students from across the college come together to produce collaborative work using shared, state-of-the-art tools. The second hub, located at the heart of the center, is the flexible Forum where students gather to present and discuss their work, learning how to develop their ideas through engaging multiple perspectives. Lit from above by a great skylight, the Forum can be seen by everyone in the surrounding spaces and is shaped to enable students from different majors to engage directly or obliquely with the pin-ups, performances, and other activities taking place.
The upper volume of the building shades the recessed ground floor to create a cool and inviting outdoor porch that overlooks soft gardens and rainwater swales. This comfortable threshold space connects the neighborhood with the building’s interior, where a theatre, gallery, café, and dance studios support Spelman students to share their work and talents with the public—allowing the creative energy generated within the building to grow as it meets the community and the wider world.
Expressing a visual lightness that reflects its light carbon footprint, the architecture resonates with the historic campus and simultaneously signals Spelman’s contemporary trajectory. Light metal sunshades and screens on the upper levels are tuned to the angles of the sun to reduce energy use while allowing in natural light. Together with the red bricks that ground the college’s color palette in the local Georgia clay, these layered, lightweight elements point to an environmental future where Black women and the knowledge and experiences of the African diaspora lead the way.
Open to the floors above and the adjacent lounge and learning spaces, the central Forum is a highly visible destination and place of intersection in the building. Hosting critiques, performances, classes, and social events, it’s a natural spot to encounter new people and ideas from across the college’s departments.
The Innovation Lab’s range of tools, from the latest 3D printers and scanners to conventional power tools, support hands-on experimentation and prototyping. Its clerestory windows allow students using the quieter work and classroom spaces above to look down into the lab’s activity or out into the surrounding landscape.
During the day, the façade’s layered screens and brises soleils shade the interior while allowing for transparency and natural light. At night, they allow the building to act as a lantern, beckoning people from across campus and the neighborhood to attend the arts events happening inside.
- 200-seat flexible theatre
- Dance studios
- Ensemble music room
- Rehearsal music room
- Innovation lab
- Student forum
- Greenscreen and motion capture stages