Melissa DelVecchio (’94) and Christopher Heim (‘04)
With the 2013 academic year underway, the now-open Stayer Center for Executive Education at the University of Notre Dame is the new “home away from home” on campus for the business professionals enrolled in the Executive Education program at Mendoza. What many might not realize as they admire the handsome new building is that the talented and creative individuals leading the design of the project were Notre Dame School of Architecture graduates.
Our featured alumni Melissa (Missy) DelVecchio (‘94), Partner at Robert A. M. Stern Architects (RAMSA), and Chris Heim (‘04), Senior Associate at RAMSA, worked together with other RAMSA colleagues, including more than a few Notre Dame graduates , to design the new Stayer Center, just south of the existing Mendoza College of Business.
Although Missy and Chris graduated from the School of Architecture a decade apart, they both were influenced by the School’s focus on classical and traditional architecture. Both furthered their professional education while in school, Missy interning with Mark P. Finley Architects in Connecticut, and Chris with Alvin Holm AIA Architects in Philadelphia. After graduating, Missy was hired by Scott Merrill in Vero Beach, Florida. Upon his own graduation, Chris joined Fairfax and Sammons in New York City, working on high-end residential projects. Both Missy and Chris gained valuable understanding of traditional detailing and construction early in their careers, as well as important job site experience.
Missy opted to continue her education at Yale, following in her mentor Scott Merrill’s footsteps, and earned her Master of Architecture degree. After completing her graduate work, she joined RAMSA with a goal of widening her design experience in the arena of institutional projects. After several years with Fairfax and Sammons, Chris moved on to work with RAMSA to pursue institutional work as well.
Both Missy and Chris have thrived at Robert A. M. Stern Architects, working on a multitude of projects, but both admit that working on the Stayer Center was a special opportunity. Not only was it a chance to continue the long-standing tradition of creating beautiful buildings at their alma mater, it was also a means to a closer look at the design process from the University side. Chris commented that “the decision makers at Notre Dame are especially aware of the strong assets they have on their existing campus, and they made sure from the beginning that we would bring the best qualities of their historic buildings into ours.”
The Stayer Center for Executive Education is not unlike many buildings on campus in its materiality and aesthetic: brick and stone masonry in a gothic style. A key distinction for Missy, though, is in its scale; the building is, in her words, more like “a large English country house”. This allows all the academic necessities to be neatly woven into the public spaces, creating a warm sense of hospitality from the inside out.
In addition, the Stayer Center’s interior academic spaces are highlighted by three double bay windows on the building’s south façade. These windows not only bring natural light deep into the building, they give the passerby on the quad a rare look into the inner workings of the space. The more public areas, like the executive lounge on the upper floor, have a dramatic view of the iconic golden dome of the Main Building. The lounge’s vaulted wood ceiling gives a lofty feel to the space by day, and in the evening when the interior is illuminated, the lounge appears as a lantern. The teaching spaces are flexibly designed to give instructors many options when structuring their courses and lectures. The chapel, always an important element in a Notre Dame building, is simply detailed and stripped of any architectural elements that might dampen the quality of liturgical music, but its lovely stained-glass windows in the apse give it a jewel-like quality nonetheless.
Both Missy and Chris attribute much of the success of the Stayer Center’s design to the wonderfully collegial team that was formed for the project, a hallmark of the design process at RAMSA. In this case, the Stayer Center team was comprised of many Notre Dame alumni. Chris and Missy both credit several other alumni whose energies were gratefully received: Jennifer Stone '98, George Punnoose '08 (grad school), Jonathan Kelly '08, Michael Ryan '04, Kate Lenehan '08, and Timothy Carroll '10. And though they were educated elsewhere, other RAMSA Partners helped to lead the design effort: Graham S. Wyatt, Preston Gumberich, and of course the firm's founder and Senior Partner Bob Stern.
For Missy, who leads many teams in her role as Partner, her involvement with the Stayer Center came simultaneously with another new project at RAMSA on Yale University’s campus. The result was her leading a design team for the Stayer Center at her undergraduate alma mater concurrently with a team for two new residential colleges at her graduate alma mater. What a thrill it all must have been.
In addition to the collaborative efforts from RAMSA, the Stayer Center’s success is also ascribed to the decision-makers at Notre Dame, who are devoted to making sure that the best qualities of the notable historic buildings on campus are echoed in new designs. The Facilities Office at Notre Dame takes on the management of large-scale projects with ease and efficiency. But, as Missy notes, the team at Skanska Construction cannot be forgotten for their attention to detail and for finding the right artisans to execute the design, all the while keeping the project on time and within budget – perhaps one of the greatest feats in the construction of any large-scale institutional project.
When asked what sort of advice Missy and Chris would give current Fifth Years and young graduates of the architecture program at Notre Dame, both agree that finding a mentor and joining a team with good teachers is tremendously important. “Bob Stern is first and foremost an educator, both as Dean of the Yale School of Architecture and as Senior Partner in our firm. His dedication to mentoring our young employees and building their skills is something I value myself,” Missy says, and adds that gaining a variety of experiences is important as well. Working in different cities at firms of varying sizes and specialties adds to a diversity of knowledge. Chris Heim offers, “the practice of architecture has its roots in apprenticeship. My advice would be to seek out willing teachers and learn all you can from them.”
In the quest to enrich one’s education in the professional world while adding a traditional-minded voice to the broader design dialogue, it is not rare for former Bond Hall “arkies” to find themselves working together all over the country. What is rarer, as in the case of the Stayer Center team at RAMSA, is for a group of Notre Dame School of Architecture alumni to collaborate on a building whose designers have such close ties to the project itself. One might argue that this exceptional circumstance could afford any venture great success, and the Stayer Center is certainly one instance where this has been the case.
Photo Credits: Heim Portrait - Peter Aaron/OTTO, DelVecchio Portrait - Robert A.M. Stern Architects, LLP, Working Photo - Robert A.M.Stern Architects, LLP, Stayer Center photographs - Francis Dzikowski/ESTO
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