Urban Campus

Gottwald Center For the Sciences

Gottwald Science Center

Front view of the Gottwald Center for the Sciences

Originally named the New Science Center, The Gottwald Center for the Sciences was a result of the 1970’s “Our Time in History Campaign.” It was designed by John Carl Warnecke and Associates and would have 162,000 square feet of usable space. As put by the Provost, Dr. Charles E. Glassic, it was to be the “finest science facility in the region for undergraduate teaching.” At a cost of $8 million (roughly $33 million today) it contained state of the art facilities and equipment. These included student and faculty laboratories, classrooms, offices, computational areas, a radionuclide complex, electron microscope suite, greenhouse, animal facilities, store and science library. This made it a comprehensive center for scientific discovery.

Built to replace Puryear, Richmond and Maryland Halls, the Gottwald Center for the Sciences would house all the sciences under one roof. This was an important development as previously each of the three natural sciences had been fragmented in smaller, separate buildings. In 1978, UR Magazine write that “The three natural sciences -- biology, chemistry, and physics -- are housed in separate modular wings, color-coded green and yellow for biology, blue for chemistry, orange for physics, and joined by connecting corridors.” This unification was as much physical as it was ideological. In a press release the University of Richmond stated that “The modular design of the three floors provides for vertical integration of each academic department and horizontal action between departments, a feature which enhances the interdisciplinary approach to the study of science.”


The all-inclusive aspect of the Gottwald Center for the Sciences would come to be an important hallmark of its existence. The design and physical construction was meant to reflect this aspect and the fast paced nature of scientific discovery. With no load bearing walls, the building could be updated and renovated cheaply and quickly. There were separate wings for each department  that would be joined by hallways. At the building’s core was a Science Library which would be its physical center and heart. This further integrated the sciences by providing a source of information and study space for all science students and faculty to use. This was an area well utilized and loved by members of the University of Richmond community.

Unfortunately, with the 2003 renovation and expansion, the library was removed. This became a large point of contention at the time. Students and faculty were up in arms about the libraries demise. The 85,000 volume collection would be moved to the main Boatwright Library while select volumes were to remain in a much smaller space. This newly free area would be turned into more labs and a three story atrium would be added. This would provide space for studying, social interactions and functions. However, the students and faculty were still sceptical

Many of the dissatisfied students voiced their opinions and took to the polls. The Collegian then compiled many of these to get the word out. Out of the students polled, 40% reported using the library daily and 29% reported using it at least several times a week. The students had enjoyed having a designated space for quiet study and research that was separate from the main library. It was close to their labs and easily accessible. This however would not be the only loss. Many felt that the removal of the science library would be a loss of social space. As put by a Biology Major at the time, Jeff Vergales, “essentially the best thing about the sciences here is that we have a central area (the library) where we can all come together.”


This became the most important issue at that time, many students and faculty had felt at the time that their needs and wishes had not been listened to. Many voiced their opinions yet others were unsure how to. There were also a subset of individuals who were worried to speak their mind. From the University's perspective however, this was the best choice. Placing the collection in boatwright would give the library more space to grow. It would also give the Gottwald Center for the Science much needed room to grow. The University planned to grow the faculty by 15 and this would require more classrooms, labs and offices. In addition they believed that adequate study space would be included in the atrium and other areas. Unfortunately the decision would have winners and losers either way.

Today, there are designated study spaces around the building. There are study rooms and tables and chairs in areas of the hallway. The atrium has some seating and when there is high demand, the school puts out tables and chairs out there as well. Even with these spaces and the extra room that can be made, many students do not feel like there is enough space. Often times it gets extremely crowded. As for the Library, today many students have never heard of its existence. When asked about it they were surprised to hear that there was one. Now it seems just to be a memory to faculty and forgotten by the students.

Gottwald Center For the Sciences