Constructed with funds raised by alumnae and students beginning in 1928, the Student-Alumnae Building (SAB), constructed in 1940, was the first building in the Modern, or International, style at Wheaton. The architects were Caleb Hornbostel and Richard M. Bennett, winners of the 1938 Fine Arts Center competition. A sesquicentennial project to update and expand this building resulted in the current design.
The 1986 Balfour-Hood project, which fully absorbed SAB while leaving its form essentially intact, presents an unusual example of International Style preservation. The two structures co-exist in a fully functional and even complementary fashion. Although students of the present day might not detect the combined buildings’ distinct architectural periods, those who knew SAB in its glory days will still recognize it.
The chief architects of Balfour-Hood, Kenneth MacLean, and Robert Neiley, created a postmodernist structure with sensitivity for the history of the older building. Creating a large, three-story atrium where SAB’s exterior courtyard once stood, they preserved the building’s exterior walls while enclosing this space with the longest façade ever constructed on campus.
Stretching all the way from the 1903 gymnasium (today, the Office of Admission) to the southern tip of Peacock Pond, Balfour-Hood’s northern façade is nearly 250 feet long. However much the new building may have preserved SAB, its façade fundamentally altered two important elements of the earlier building’s identity, its commanding presence on Chapel Field and its unique, 45-degree angled orientation to the traditional campus.
Within Balfour-Hood’s new spaces, including the remodeled interiors of SAB, the designers created an expanded campus hub, including a cafe, pub, game room, radio station, dance studio and post office, as well as offices for Student Life, the Student Government Association, Nike and Wheaton News. The large atrium space serves a variety of functions. With the loss of Plimpton Hall, SAB’s former ballroom, the atrium became the college’s primary venue for dances.