Benedictine University Neff Welcome Center (2013, DLR Group)
The thick, limestone walls of Morris Neff’s farmhouse have sustained the test of time proving their durability as an enclosure for all its inhabitants since its construction in 1852. These walls are rich in history, physical patina and spirit, all absorbed from the highly disciplined life of Benedictine monks who have lived within. The farmhouse provided the fertile grounds on which these monks transformed their Benedictine University, at the time small, into the highly respected academic institute it is today. The history and theology of the University resides within these limestone walls that are continuously providing a vision of the past, present, and future of the University and religion.
The importance of readapting Neff’s original farmhouse to the Neff Alumni Welcome Center was clearly understood from the outset to pay respect to the University’s history and to establish the next chapter of the farmhouse’s and University’s future. After a carefully detailed restoration process to the limestone façade was complete, the once two-story dwelling was transformed into a gallery and events space with exposed limestone walls and timber framing. To ensure that an addition lived harmoniously with the original farmhouse, all limestone used for new construction was extracted from the original quarry that the existing stone was taken from. The addition, shaped by on-site limitations from easements and utility locations, forms an “L” shape embracing the original farmhouse on the north and west facades. Visually pulled away and elevated off the ground, the addition conceptually pays respect to the original farmhouse and site. It includes office space, a lounge, toilet rooms, mechanical and storage space, and a large conference room. The event plaza in front of the center is a representation of the “Benedictine Medallion”. This conceptually represents the beginning of the student’s collegiate journey at Benedictine University while the experience concludes in the original farmhouse as a way to pay homage to the university’s foundation and history.