Special Programs Building (formerly Virginia Institute for Scientific Research)
When touring the University of Richmond campus it is clear that almost all of the architecture was designed in the collegiate gothic style. The one building that sticks out like a sore thumb is the special programs building. This building has been used for a few different purposes and has housed a variety of different departments throughout the years. It all started in 1963 when the Virginia Institute for Scientific Research leased the building from the University of Richmond. The old VISR building was the Robinson House on the grounds of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. The new building was called the Allen T. Gwathney laboratory, in honor of the founder of the VISR. The scientists at the VISR and professors at students at Richmond collaborated on some research projects. In 1971 an environmental research center staffed by both VISR and Richmond faculty was opened. The VISR conducted research in the natural sciences under both industrial and federal contracts. In November, 1972 an explosion caused a fire in one of the labs. Equipment, notes, research, and samples were destroyed and a total of $50,000 to $60,000 was lost in damages. Three years later in 1975 the University took back the loan to the VISR and the Gwathney Building became the Special Programs Building. The VISR was permitted to remain on campus for a period of time, even moving their offices into North Court. For a time the Special Programs Building was home to the print shop, summer school, and graduate school (first floor) and had one classroom, the science library, psychology labs, an animal facility, and some unfinished space (second floor). Today the health center, police station, and school of professional and continuing studied can be found in the Special Programs Building. The Special Programs Building serves as a good example of a building (pre-Gottwald) that was built with the expectation that it would serve for scientific research.
FAST FACT: While visiting facilities and admiring the blueprints, on the second floor there is space for an "inoculated chickens" room, in addition to growing and breeding rooms. Here the VISR along with some faculty worked conducting research on the effectiveness of vaccines on chickens. In the breeding and growing rooms they would mate chickens and then incubate the eggs, respectively.
The Special Programs building was completed in 1963, by the architects Carneal and Johnston. The building is a 22,000 square foot rectangle. While the rest of the buildings on this campus, most also designed by Carneal and Johnston are built in the collegiate gothic style, this building has a modernist touch. The building has housed various departments and programs since its construction, therefore the space must be versatile. Carneal and Johnston designed the building so that the main corridor that runs horizontally is the wall thats load bearing. This means that all other walls in the building really don't support weight. The main frame and corridor are the only walls the building needs to remain standing. This allows for a constant rearranging of rooms depending what that space is needed for at that time. The building has been redone many times, in fact barely any rooms included in the original design are around today. Also in the original blueprints, there were only stairs at both ends of the buildings. In 1990 when there were renovations to the Special Programs Building, more stairwells and an elevator shaft were included. The frame of the building is supported by giant steel beams, and covered with precast concrete panels. To mimic the little detailing that many of the collegiate gothic buildings have, Carneal and Johnston designed hexagonal cast stone pieces. The hexagon detailing was shaped using plastic pieces and then created by pouring concrete into the mold. These hexagons run along the entire perimeter of the building along with the two long sides of the rectangle.