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The Right Approach


Gary Gold (3)

"Downtown can be a wonderful place. These projects will bring the next generation of connections to the movement between the town and the university," says Russell Leslie '80

The W. & L. E. Gurley Co. Building was built in 1862, seven months after the great fire that destroyed much of Troy. William Gurley, Class of 1839 and a Rensselaer trustee, founded the company as a manufacturer of precision surveying equipment. Slits in the walls used to test instruments in the early days provide glimpses of the Rensselaer campus up the hill.
 Gurley Precision Instruments now occupies only the first floor of its namesake building. Its National Register of Historic Places designation makes the upper three floors difficult to rent, as the structure and appearance must be preserved.
 Rensselaer's Lighting Research Center (LRC) recently signed a five-year renewable lease with Albany Management Inc., securing the Gurley Building space and providing it with an architecturally conscious tenant.
 The LRC, the world's foremost research and education center dedicated to lighting, was created in 1988 within the School of Architecture to change lighting practice so that buildings are more energy-efficient and responsive to human needs. As part of this effort, the LRC started a graduate degree program to educate the future leaders of lighting. The Master of Science in Lighting is a two-year master's degree that builds on the center's extensive research program to give students experience with the most advanced equipment and practice.
 The new LRC facility will occupy approximately 25,000 square feet on the upper floors of the Gurley Building, a 50 percent increase over the center's current quarters in Watervliet. The move, to be completed by the start of the spring semester, will provide space for the continuing growth of the center, which unites industry, utilities, government, and the university in a partnership to support lighting research and education.
 The historic building's heavy timber framing, including round wooden columns, will remain intact. The red brick facades are likewise in good condition. While the majority of the new facility will be open-plan to take advantage of natural light, there will be some closed offices, laboratories, and classrooms.
 Russell Leslie '80, associate director of the LRC and the architect designing the transformation of the Gurley Building, notes, "It's interesting—one of the problems we have is there is too much light in this building" for the testing rooms, which understandably require darkness. The new headquarters will be designed to provide areas that encourage researchers and students from all disciplines to work closely together, he says. The space will be used to display cutting-edge lighting technology from around the world.
 Although it would have been easier and cheaper for the LRC to build a new building, its decision to renovate a historic building demonstrates Rensselaer's commitment to Troy. "This project brings together the heritage of the 19th century and the promise of the 21st," says Leslie. "Instead of putting up new space, we are helping to preserve a historic building and we are turning it into a technological lighting showcase that will serve as a home for teaching and research."
  "The relocation brings our faculty, staff, and students closer to campus and makes it possible to participate more fully as members of the Troy community," adds Mark Rea, LRC director. The move will bring 40 faculty and staff members, 20 graduate students, and about 1,000 visitors annually into the downtown area.
 "Downtown can be a wonderful place. These projects will bring the next generation of connections to the movement between the town and the university," says Leslie.
 Ian Finn '99 used the renovation of the Gurley Building as the focus of his fifth-year final architectural project. Under the guidance of adviser Walter Kroner '67, Finn looked at the Gurley Building and surrounding area in terms of the "ways that the city of Troy and RPI can share information and program: lecture spaces, meeting spaces, posting spaces, gallery spaces, special theaters—the things that can be used by either participant, which then fosters this connection, this new dynamic relationship between Troy and RPI, in a much more tangible way."

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