Farinon College Center

The most recent building at Lafayette is the Farinon College Center. Given by William B. ’39 and P T Farinon, the Center satisfies a long-standing need of the college for a social center and additional dining facilities. In fact, the building includes among its other features a main dining room and three small dining rooms, a main lounge, college store, post office, movie theater, fireplace area, snack bar and student organization meeting rooms. One of the great challenges for the architects was to coordinate so many activities within a single structure.

The central organizing feature of the Farinon Center is a long two-story Atrium that runs through its center and is paralleled by a concourse on the ground floor. The Atrium is dramatically covered by a glass, pitched skylight. On one hand, the Atrium is based upon glass-covered shopping areas, such at the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele (1865-67) in Milan, which were popular in the late 19th century, and on a source more accessible to our students, the shopping mall. The architects clearly mean to merge this commercial experience with another reference, that of the living room. The group sitting areas in the Atrium and its fireplace, as well as the varied sizes and shapes of the rooms around it, especially the semi-circular dining room, call forth domestic associations on a very large scale.

The exterior of the Farinon College Center is clearly designed to compliment its neighbor, Hogg Hall. Like that earlier social center, Farinon has an extended wing on the north side that culminates to the south in a cross-gable topped by a crossette. In the Farinon Center, however, the cross-gable is the entrance to the building. Of course, the Farinon Center also exhibits a modernist lack of decoration, which differentiates it from its Gothic Revival predecessor.

The exterior of the Farinon College Center has another, less obvious, reference point, one which, like its interior, is distinctly domestic. Its asymmetrical mass conveys the casualness of private architecture, and its gabled entrance, complete with a diamond-shaped window (frequently employed in household designs) calls forth familial associations. The projecting dining area with its cone-shaped roof is reminiscent of the circular pavilions attached to the porches of our grander country homes. Even such details as the mullioned windows and the prominence of the chimney support this reading.

If one wishes to find the Lafayette building most closely related to the Farinon Center, one must look not on campus but to High Street and at McKelvy House. One wonders whether the Boston architects took a particularly close look at the east side of McKelvy during their tours of Lafayette, or whether the traditions of Richardson–and, by extension, McKim, Meade and White–are so firmly rooted in their visual memories that no additional reminder was necessary. In any case, the domestic associations of the Farinon Center perfectly suit one of the prime criteria set by the college: that it “bring our campus together.” One might add “as a family.” The Farinon College Center does not contain the slight eccentricities of the Skillman Wing. It represents a later and more straightforward version of Post Modern appropriation.

From “Lafayette College Architecture: In Context” by Robert Saltonstall Mattison. Easton, PA: Friends of Skillman Library, 1991.