Vassar Inn & Institute for the Liberal Arts

Poughkeepsie, NY
(2018 - ongoing)

Nelson Byrd Woltz is collaborating with Frederick Fisher and Partners and Vassar College to create a new Inn & Institute for the Liberal Arts on the College’s historic campus in Poughkeepsie, NY.  

A pioneer for women’s education and liberal arts education in the United States, Matthew Vassar founded the College in 1861 inspired by his niece Lydia Booth and her work establishing the Cottage Hill Seminary in Poughkeepsie. The campus landscape holds a long history of innovation from the original James Renwick, Jr. design to the establishment of the conservation-focused Dutchess County Outdoor Ecological Laboratory on the southwest campus edge by Vassar botany professor Edith Roberts. It is also an arboretum campus with more than 230 species gracing the grounds.

The new facility sits directly downhill from Alumnae House, a historic Tudor mansion donated to the College by two sisters and Vassar alumnae to be a center for alumnae activities and “a welcoming hearthstone to all”. The Inn & Institute offer a clear connection to that hospitality-rich legacy by placing an inviting public living-room styled glass lobby and leafy, shaded outdoor courtyard at its core. Before the 1924 completion of the Alumnae House, the site was collectively known as "the Rock Lot", conceivably due to the large exposed bedrock on the hillside. In an early scheme for female faculty housing, Beatrix Farrand proposed both an interior courtyard garden and rock garden on the site. NBW responds both to the underlying geology and Farrand's work with a meandering hillside path which descends into a new building courtyard of stone, concrete, and woodland plant species.

The Institute and Inn will allow Vassar to play an important role in fostering dialogue about higher education and contemporary challenges in the US and globally. Through its programming, inspired by faculty and students, the Institute and Inn will advance bold and wide-ranging discourse on crucial topics of local, regional, national, and global interest.

The landscape design seeks to sensitively knit the new facility into its surrounding context through expansive lawns, inviting, accessible approaches and plantings that build on the rich seasonality of common Hudson Valley trees and shrubs. A new hillside meander weaving beneath a canopy of oaks will link the Inn & Institute to the historic Alumnae House. A key driver of the design is the collection and treatment of stormwater - the new landscape further's Vassar's commitment to connect people with learning opportunities about the importance of green stormwater infrastructure and watershed health. The landscape embodies Vassar’s commitment to demonstrating the relevance and value of liberal arts education supported by a healthy environment as a key underpinning to a pluralistic, open, and equitable society.