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Corcoran planning total makeover of New College’s east campus

Written by on Friday, November 24, 2023

It starts with saving the Pei Dorms, but the plans go beyond.

By Dania Hefley

Original Air Date: Nov. 24, 2023

Host: The new president of New College is beginning to leave his mark on the physical appearance of the campus. Richard Corcoran has started an effort to save the decaying dorms designed by famous architect I.M. Pei in the 1960s. WSLR News reporter Dania Hefley has the details about an architectural competition.

Dania Hefley: New College of Florida, in collaboration with Architecture Sarasota, has announced Sweet Sparkman Architecture & Interiors as the winner of the Reimagining Pei architectural competition.

The process of picking the winner was mostly internal.

In bad shape: The “brutalist”-style Pei Dorms. Photo: New College

According to Sarasota Magazine, the administrators of the competition added three days for public input in an online survey, which generated comments from 300 people. The unveiling of the design was initially scheduled for Nov. 17 after the presentation by the finalists on Nov. 15. But the announcement of the winner was postponed by four days to Nov. 21, to enable public participation through an online survey. That day, more than 200 New College students, faculty, staff, and community members flocked to Mildred Sainer Pavilion for the occasion.

The competition, launched to honor architect I.M. Pei’s work on the “brutalist”-style dormitories on New College’s East Campus, tasked firms with transforming the structures as part of a future campus plan incorporating an athletic complex, retail, and entertainment spaces.

The three finalists—Sweet Sparkman, Brooks+Scarpa and STUDIOS Architecture — each received a $10,000 honorarium from the New College Foundation to develop their design concepts.

Before the finalists were introduced, New College President Richard Corcoran said a few words. 

 Richard Corcoran: We had 35 people apply for this competition worldwide, and thanks to the team at Architecture Sarasota they narrowed it down to three, and reward or the prize was $10,000 to each firm. In all the drawings you’re going to see, we’re trying to re-focus the east side into a sports complex and how do we re-envision the Pei’s around that sports, entertainment, retail? And they’ve all done a fantastic job. You’re going to see what could possibly be one of the finest sports complexes, an absolute visionary Pei complex, and something that whether you fly into Sarasota Airport, you drive up University and down Tamiami, anybody in either the plane or those cars are going to look over there and say what the heck is that?

The winner is a local firm. Sweet Sparkman Architecture & Interiors is headquartered in Sarasota and has a two-decade track record in addressing climate challenges, specializing in community, commercial, and residential architecture.

The other two finalists are global players. Los Angeles-based Brooks+Scarpa is a Cooper-Hewitt National Design Award-winning firm known for environmentally responsive designs. STUDIOS Architecture, based in Paris, was a recipient of a 2022 GSA Honor Award, and specializes in original approaches to material sourcing with a focus on upcycling and recycling. 

Sweet Sparkman’s presentation was led by founder Todd Sweet and one of the principals, Karl Bernhard. They presented a plan they called “Repei”. It  centers around the repurposing, re-energizing, and reimagining of the historic Pei Dorms.  The architects outlined a master plan for the east campus, emphasizing athletics, wellness, and student life, incorporating major road elements, increased vehicular access, and areas for gathering spaces. The proposed athletic complex includes outdoor facilities and a flagship baseball stadium, with considerations for parking and elevated pedestrian paths, according to Todd Sweet.

Todd Sweet: And the question is how can they be feasibly repurposed? I think the largest, or the most challenging part, of this project is how can we afford to renovate the Pei Dorms, because economics are going to play a part in this. So what we plan to do, talking within our firm, is to introduce our levels of intervention of how we can economically look to repurpose the dorms as adaptive reuse. 

The final design concepts, along with a video of the live presentation, are available online at ncf.edu/ReimaginingPei. Architecture Sarasota will exhibit the Reimagining Pei Challenge final design concepts at McCulloch Pavilion, 265 S. Orange Avenue, on Wednesday, Dec. 6.

The New College Challenge – a long-term plan for the campus created by college members before the political changes early this year, to adapt to future needs and climate change – was not mentioned. David Brain, a New College sociology and urban planning teacher who led that effort, did not respond to a request for an interview.

According to local news reports, New College of Florida is in the process of creating a long-term plan for the entire campus.

In a budgetary challenge facing Corcoran and the campus, the neighboring Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport signaled recently the college should buy the land on which the Pei Dorms stand. New College has been leasing its east campus from the airport authority in a 100-year agreement, which expires in 2065. A purchase could amount to hundreds of millions of dollars.

This has been Dania Hefley for WSLR news.


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