One of a pair of Neoclassical pavilions housing the undergraduate debating societies, the building was designed by A. Page Brown in 1893 and significantly transformed after a fire in 1969. The firm of Gwathmey Siegel was retained by the University to redesign the interior in 1972. Charles Gwathmey seized on the opportunity to pay homage to the 1920s avant-garde within the classical cube of the original structure. The result was a densely planned, layered composition that accommodated a program of meeting spaces, offices, lounge, and support spaces. Gwathmey syncopated interlocking volumes and structure in a nine-square scheme that simultaneously alluded to the rigors of the Palladian tradition while confronting it with modernist imagery. The resulting collage was an important essay in the famous dialogue of the Whites and the Grays.
The University recognized the need to both preserve this provocative assemblage and update it with new infrastructure, modest functional enhancements and envelope improvements.
The project scope included: replacement and new building systems; code compliance and barrier-free accessibility improvements; program improvements both for the multiple independent student groups that occupy the building and for University use of the public spaces; and energy efficiency.
The strategy for the project was to restore and maintain the clarity of the Gwathmey design, while making gentle adjustments for program needs. New elements are wood veneer clad, such as the curved, acoustical shell in the Senate Room, display cases, and millwork. These features are clearly differentiated from the original modification, a discernable layer of intervention. This work was completed over a summer in time for reoccupation in the academic year. The project was the recipient of a Merit Award for Historic Preservation from AIA NJ.