Alpha Phi at UGA

The Alpha Phi Sorority project rehabilitated the 1860/1909 Dearing-Wilkins House in Athens and converted it from single-family use to sorority use, with the addition of 54 beds, site parking, assembly rooms, and dining facilities. The building program sought to retain as much of the historic house as possible, including original parlor rooms and finishes and significant historic exterior features, while adding to the building in a way that complements the old house that Athenians have loved for years.

Design Challenge

Mitigating building mass: Converting the house from single-family to sorority use required the addition of substantial new floor area, tripling the building footprint of what is a locally-designated landmark house. The massing of the additions is oriented to the rear of the historic house and across the width of the lot to allow the house’s central hall axis to continue through to the new chapter room in the south wing. The north dorm wing forms one edge of a garden courtyard framed by brick garden walls and the side of the historic house. The massing of new portions of the building were broken up into connected blocks so that, from any one point, only two two of the three main building components was readily visible. Maintaining views from the historic house: The openness at the rear of the historic wraparound porches was preserved by matching the width of the south wing to the historic house and by incorporating a glassy hyphen to connect the north and south wings. This hyphen also breaks up the massing of the two rear additions so that their secondary relationship to the historic house is clear. The exterior detailing of the new additions is sympathetic to the neoclassicism of the historic house, but uses simpler details for both economy and deference to the original.

Physical Context

A prime directive of the Alpha Phi project was to retain, to the greatest degree possible, the balance between the historic house and its mature southern landscape. This resulted in the creation of a no-parking/no-dig zone that included about 90% of the landscape between the front of the house and South Milledge Avenue. The existing landscape was carefully maintained and supplemented with new plantings. The existing pervious loop driveway, all healthy canopy trees, existing planting beds, and mature traditional shrubs, like camellias and gardenias, were retained. The large majority of work was concentrated in the rear of the house, where new building mass, parking, and new landscape elements are located. In these areas, the new design took advantage of existing garden walls to mitigate the visibility of rear alterations from neighboring residential properties, while creating a new private garden space for residents to enjoy. New rear parking is accessible from a back street, leaving the front yard unmolested by regular vehicular traffic. More than 50% of the parking area is pervious surfaces and planting beds. While the parking lot drive aisles are concrete, all parking spaces in the rear lot use pervious paving to drain directly into on-site stormwater detention located under the parking lot. Significant tree and shrub plantings are located within the parking area and along its perimeter.