The Sapp Center for Science Teaching and Learning – affectionately known as Old Chem – has been recognized with a Preservation Design Award by the California Preservation Foundation, California’s statewide organization for the protection of its diverse cultural heritage and historic places.
The Sapp Center, which opened its doors in November 2016, was recognized in the “rehabilitation” category alongside nine other structures from throughout the state, including the Sacramento Valley Station and the New Mission Theater in San Francisco.
The Sapp Center was one of JANE STANFORD’s five “noble” buildings. It was opened in 1903 and was, at the time, considered one of the best designed and equipped chemistry labs in the nation. It was closed in 1987 due to safety hazards and sustained damage during the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989. Because it was shuttered for 30 years, bringing the building back to life was no small task.
The Sapp Center will be the centerpiece of Stanford’s future science hub, which will unite chemistry, biology, computer science and chemical biology buildings in close proximity to the School of Medicine, Stanford Bio-X, Stanford ChEM-H, the Stanford Neurosciences Institute and the Science and Engineering Quad. With this in mind, the design process for Old Chem’s transformation was collaborative across departments and disciplines, with emphasis on the future of science research and education.
Old Chem’s ground floor was replaced by the 300-seat Oberndorf Family Auditorium, a 110-seat lecture hall, meeting rooms, classrooms and an airy gallery space – all designed to encourage interaction among students, faculty and staff from various departments. Four stories in total, the building houses five “swing labs,” which can serve for instruction of both chemistry and biology, and five additional labs for organic and advanced chemistry courses. At the top of the building is the Robin Li and Melissa Ma Science Library, which combines collections from biology, chemistry, mathematics, statistics and chemical engineering.
The architects were careful to preserve much of the original aesthetic of the structure. Nods to the building’s storied past include lab tables from Old Chem that were reused as the library checkout counter. Also preserved were many of the original windows – one of which has messages from former students etched into the glass.
CAW Architects acted as associate architects on this project. The firm is led by alum CHRISTOPHER WASNEY, BA ’80, an adjunct lecturer in Stanford’s Architectural Design Program, and BRENT MCCLURE, who has been a guest lecturer in the same program.