The Dome is under construction between Packard Lab and the Alumni Memorial Building on Sunday, Sept. 13, 2015. The project is part of an optional lab for civil engineering and architecture majors. (Chris Barry/B&W Photo)

Students collaborate to create vault for sesquicentennial

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As part of Lehigh’s sesquicentennial year celebration, members of the department of art, architecture and design are creating a Catalan-style vault on the grass near the Alumni Memorial Building.

The vault is being built as part of the Hammerschlag Design Series, and is being funded through a grant awarded to the department. Ground has already been broken for the project.

The department initiated the series last year with a few short-term visiting designers on campus who were building workshops and giving public lectures. This year, the series invited a visiting professor, Richard Kroeker from Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, Canada. Kroeker will work closely with Lehigh professors Nik Nikolov and Anthony Viscardi, who is the project’s leader, in coordinating the planning and building of the vault.

“I am the executor, also the professor, and also the guy that digs in the dirt,” Viscardi said. “I kind of wear all hats.”

The goal of the series vault project is to involve students in the creation of a unique and interactive space on campus. The vault is a way to connect one department to another. Viscardi sees the vault as a way to bring together students on campus and provide a new location for social interaction and reflection.

Nicholas Fernandez, ’16, an art and architecture double major, believes in the usability of the structure in its future on Lehigh’s campus.

“I can really see a structure like this being heavily used here at Lehigh,” he said. “Things like this are what really makes our school stand out from other colleges. It doesn’t surprise me that the architecture department was able to organize something so cool.”

As part of the initiative, there will be two project-based course offerings for students to learn more about Catalan-style vaults and ultimately help build them. The first of the courses is a studio seminar that will be taught by Viscardi, and students will prepare to plan and build the vault throughout the semester. The second of the courses is a technology class taught by Nikolov.

The workshop groups from the courses will design and build the vault using a ceramic vaulting technique taught in class. They will work to create a shell form that can be used by the public for group events any form of public gathering. Viscardi has great expectations for the structure and the building process.

“The idea really comes from how we can make a project that will truly get people invested in, and also in the end come out with a wonderful piece of infrastructure,” Viscardi said.

A major part of the infrastructure itself will be the acoustic environment it creates. In the course Shells, Vaults & Domes, students will learn about the techniques of the Guastavino family. The family was the first to bring Catalan-style vaulting methods to the United States. The family adapted the methods for their material advantages to develop a construction method to create a unique vault form.

The project has involved students from both the department of art, architecture and design and students from other fields of study. The facilitators invited and worked closely with students from the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science.

“I think the idea of this is awesome,” said Grant Lehman, ’17, a civil engineering major. “It’s great to have something so unique like this on campus. I can’t wait to see what it looks like once its all finished up.”

Lehman added that projects like the vault are something that he’s really interested in, and he wouldn’t be surprised if the structure became a main attraction on campus.

Viscardi said the project will be completed by the middle of October, and he is eager to see the finished product.

“It’s not only a great representation of the past 150 years of Lehigh but also the next 150 years to come,” he said.

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