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Architecture Will Add ‘Wyo-Wow’ to Marian H. Rochelle Gateway Center

April 11, 2014
Construction on academic building
Work continues on the Marian H. Rochelle Gateway Center. (UW Foundation)

The University of Wyoming’s new Marian H. Rochelle Gateway Center will be a technical and architectural marvel that combines the traditions of the past with the innovations of the future.

The center was designed by Cheyenne-based Pappas & Pappas Architects, P.C., and DLR Group, an integrated design firm with offices across the United States.

“This is going to be a building that is very important to the success of the university,” says Stephan Pappas, owner of Pappas and Pappas Architects and the project’s architect on record. “The Gateway Center is going to be a signature facility for welcoming students and visitors to campus.”

Initial plans for the Marian H. Rochelle Gateway Center included discussions of keeping the building traditional, with straight lines, steeped rooflines and sandstone. The building concept soon shifted to a contemporary, forward-looking appearance. According to Karl Derrah and Tim Wellner, designers with the DLR group, the UW Foundation board was looking for a “Wyo-Wow” factor, combining the traditional with the contemporary.

“We balanced out the two design styles with masonry at the base of the building, keeping some of the traditional look,” says Tim Wellner, architectural designer, DLR Group.

Sandstone is one of the defining elements of UW buildings. When the university was founded in 1886, Old Main was constructed of sandstone that was quarried locally. The architect, Frederick Hale, designed it in Romanesque Revival style, which was intended to contextualize Wyoming, with the rough texture of the building representing the developing frontier and the minimal classical decoration symbolic of the emerging sophistication of the Wyoming people.

The rough-cut sandstone was quarried just outside Laramie, and the Potsdam Sandstone trim was quarried in Rawlins. While the convenience of local building materials probably played a major role in Old Main’s construction, it also started a tradition and, for many years after, campus buildings were constructed from sandstone that was quarried near Laramie.

Like the bucking horse, the sandstone is a brand of the university. It is an important element of UW and a tradition. The Marian H. Rochelle Gateway Center wouldn’t be constructed without it.

“Our challenge has been to find sandstone that looks the same color,” says Chet Lockard, owner’s representative consultant, Project Guide Services. “On this building, it was important to maintain the sandstone because it is the signature material for the university.”

Luckily, two places in the country have this type of sandstone available -- the closest match comes from a company called Arriscraft, located in Georgia, while a company in Utah has sandstone with a reddish tint -- and it will be featured prominently on the building. While the entire building will have sandstone at the base, a larger concentration of the rock will be featured on the north side near War Memorial Stadium.

“If you look at the north elevation and the War Memorial concourse, there’s definitely a lot more stone,” says Wellner. “That transitions nicely to War Memorial Stadium and relates back to campus.”

Sandstone is a heavy material that represents the enduring qualities that define UW. By having it on the Marian H. Rochelle Gateway Center, it shows how supportive and enduring this building will be for the university and the state’s people.

“It’s going to be that jewel on the campus that everybody’s going to flock to,” Pappas says. “Everybody will have a stake in this building because they’ll feel it’s part of the University of Wyoming and the legacy that the University of Wyoming has. People will just take ownership in the building.”

Full walls of glass, some curved, will contrast with the sandstone. Offices inside the Marian H. Rochelle Gateway Center will offer views of the community, War Memorial Stadium and the mountain ranges that surround Laramie. The grounds also will be visible from inside the building, and the landscaping will continue the traditions that were started on campus. They include sandstone on the bases of light poles and incorporation of the Vedauwoo-style Sherman Granite boulders that grace Prexy’s Pasture.

“In Wyoming, a big part of life is the outdoors,” says Karl Derrah, architect and design principal with DLR group. “So, it’s a great opportunity to really connect you to the outdoors.”

The inside will be visible from the outside. The building’s transparency will give visitors, UW employees and students a sense of connection to the community, one another and the university. As the “gateway,” it will be the first building students enter when starting their college careers, and it will be the building they exit into the “real world.” As alumni, it will be a home to return to.

“There are a lot of buildings that get the name ‘Gateway,’” says Derrah. “It’s a very popular name, but this one, the name ‘Gateway’ works on so many levels. It’s the first building you come to, it’s helping you to move out, you’re returning, you’re coming back in. It’s amazing. You can move through.”

Other contemporary features include unusual curves and angles. The McMurry Legacy Hall will be the most prominent with its oval shape and technological exhibits that will tell the university’s story -- from the founding in 1886 through its vibrant present and on into the institution’s bright future -- through museum-quality space and dynamic and flexible visuals, including video and digital displays.

“It’s a very complex building in its geometric shape,” says Wellner. “But I think that’s what really sets it apart from other buildings on campus, that complexity.”

The Marian H. Rochelle Gateway Center will be a place for all to gather. It will celebrate the past, present and future through its architecture and exhibits. While the building itself will be stunning and have a “Wyo-Wow” factor, it will be the people who make the place truly special.

The center is a remarkable statement regarding the impact of private fundraising on Wyoming’s university. It is funded completely through private support, including a $10 million commitment from Marian H. Rochelle to name the center and a $6 million commitment from Mick and Susie McMurry through the McMurry Foundation to name the center’s two most prominent visitors’ spaces: the McMurry Foundation Grand Atrium and the McMurry Foundation UW Legacy Hall.

The Rochelle Gateway Center is scheduled to open in late 2014.

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