The former Gross Chemistry building was officially renamed the Gross Hall for Interdisciplinary Innovation at a dedication ceremony Thursday.
Over $29 million worth of renovations within the building and on its exterior began in 2012 to allow other departments to move into the space. Formerly home to the chemistry department, the building now houses the political science department. Some space is also allocated to Social Science Research Initiative, the Information Initiative at Duke and the Pratt School of Engineering.
President Richard Brodhead, Executive Vice President Tallman Trask and Provost Peter Lange began the ceremony with a few remarks, often poking fun at the form "modern gothic" architecture, which, in the words of Brodhead, seemed to “let nothing in and nothing out.” Brodhead added that previously, the lack of natural lighting in the building and fort-like concrete walls painted an austere portrait—a building far more focused on function than aesthetics. Considered novel when it was built, the building has always seemed to have a less appealing look than the traditional architecture on Duke's west campus.
The newly renovated spaces offer a more open atmosphere than previously. The team rooms, which have glass walls, encourage outsiders to join in on conversations. All in all, while more conducive to group efforts, the new Gross Hall maintains a homey feeling of comfort with its mixture of woods, oranges and blues.
“The event was such a great success with lots of participation from students, faculty and researchers,” wrote Communications Director for SSRI Courtney Orning in an email Thursday. “The open house allowed us to showcase our facilities, help promote Bass Connections projects and chat with researchers about possible collaborations. Connecting, collaborating and creating [are] what SSRI is all about.”
Kelly Brownell, dean of the Sanford School of Public Policy, discussed the necessity of focusing on scholarship to allow for positive change in social norms and the crafting of informed public policy, referencing the interdisciplinary nature of the building.
Both Bass Connections and SSRI-West embody the building's focus on an interdisciplinary approach and were present at the dedication.
"My hope is that students will see the power of their disciplinary training—leveraged with disciplinary strength of others—as teams set out to solve problems that require multiple types of expertise," wrote Thomas Nechyba, director of the SSRI as well as Bass Connections in Education and Human Development and professor of economics and public policy. "If we succeed in that, I think we prepare students for the challenges they will face in whatever path they choose.
SSRI-West, located next to the political science department on the second floor, is the complement to SSRI-East and offers resources, from access to web designs to help with statistical analysis. SSRI-West features was designed to be reminiscent of a lounge in order to promote group work.
“It was an awesome event," said Heather Tipalos, administrative director of the Duke Population Research Institute at SSRI. "We have a couple people interested, so it was productive.”