Fueled by surging enrollment and aspiring for accreditation as a University, Salem State College (now Salem State University) acquired a nearly 40 acre industrial site with a plan to build new academic and residential buildings. The site – although appropriately sized – was adjacent to a tidal salt marsh, bordered by a single-family residential neighborhood, and in need of remediation. Simultaneously, the Massachusetts State College Building Authority (MSCBA), the quasi-independent public authority that funds and develops new residence halls, was pushing the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to streamline public bidding laws under new alternative construction method regulations.
All these factors became part of Bergmeyer’s design challenge for Atlantic Hall.
While managing the usual budget, schedule, and regulatory pressures of a new 458-bed undergraduate residence hall, Bergmeyer also sought to design an iconic centerpiece for Salem State University’s emerging Central Campus and connect the new building to Salem’s maritime history.
An H-shaped building layout was developed to address two distinct outdoor spaces formed by its placement on the site, the marsh to the east and a new campus lawn to the west, and to join the spaces visually and experientially through active first-floor entry and common spaces. The low, asymmetrical massing minimized the large building’s impact on the adjoining residential neighborhood.
The building’s architectural language couples the spirit of enterprise and invention found at the University with the richness of its historic context. Borrowing from the architecture of the City’s commercial waterfront, Atlantic Hall evokes the Yankee practicality and economy of traditional masonry, while its dramatic glass-enclosed stair tower and photovoltaic array demonstrate that the building — and the University — are progressive and forward-looking.