Ennead Architects has completed Denning House, the new home for the Knight-Hennessy Scholars Program at Stanford University. Working with the University and the Denning Family, Ennead Design Partner Richard Olcott developed a design that supports the ambitious goals of the program, which brings together an international cohort of future global leaders to address complex challenges through collaboration.
Denning House is intended to be a gathering place for a community of graduate scholars across diverse disciplines, a place for them to share ideas and to develop as leaders. The new building offers a variety of meeting, classroom and dining spaces, formal and informal, large and small, both inside and outside, suitable for individual study, small gatherings or large events.
The site, at the edge of Lake Lagunita, is an unusual one: formerly a parking lot, it is surrounded by a densely forested landscape of California oaks. The building's design takes advantage of this site condition by inverting the program, placing the large public spaces including dining, classroom, and lounges on the second floor, where they take full advantage of the spectacular view. These surmount the administration, conference, and back-of-house facilities on the ground floor.
One approaches the 18,000 square foot building via a gently curving, sloping boardwalk, which gradually leaves the ground and delivers one to a "front porch" and lobby space. From here, the sequence is further attenuated with a gracious stair, which one slowly ascends, gradually revealing the expansive view, until now totally hidden. A gently sloping ceiling rises above the stair, opening the facade towards the lake, creating a continuous flowing space that moves from intimate to grand. The major spaces here are arrayed along a shallow arcing façade, giving onto a continuous deck along the lake.
Through these devices, and the use of Douglas fir wood structure and surfaces throughout the interior and cypress cladding on the exterior, the building feels like a treehouse, far removed from the campus around it, hidden in the trees but looking out at the iconic California landscape beyond.
"We were charged with creating a space that would establish a true home for the new program," said Olcott. "We wanted to create a special retreat-a place that feels secluded though is still at the center of campus life, where these students can come together and be inspired."
Photography: Tim Griffith