One place where Mount Holyoke celebrates its history is in the college's Willits-Hallowell Conference Center where hundreds of functions ranging from corporate meetings to alumni affairs and faculty get-togethers are held each year. Unlike many of the other buildings on campus, which represent differing architectural styles from earlier periods, the Willits-Hallowell Center is a modern structure and its conference rooms can seem a bit stark, especially compared to the ornate detailing and stained glass in other campus buildings.
In early 1999, Rexam Image Products proposed a radical interior design suggestion for the center to officials at Mount Holyoke: create and install a customized, digitally printed wall covering designed solely by and for the college using some innovative new materials the company recently developed. Rexam, whose headquarters was nearby, is a global supplier of coated paper and film for digital imaging technologies.
The proposal sounded intriguing to Mount Holyoke. But Imad Zubi, director of the Willits-Hallowell Center, and Michael Buckley, Mount Holyoke's general service superintendent, wanted to know a little bit more about digital wall coverings and the technology involved. Zubi and Buckley were the college representatives who would be most heavily involved in the project. In particular, they wanted to make sure the process would not be any more difficult than a typical wallpaper installation and that the final result would meet the high standards of quality the college maintains.
A SENSE OF HISTORY
Rexam Image Products invited Zubi and Buckley to its facilities in South Hadley to tour the laboratories and manufacturing operations and to see firsthand how the wall coverings are produced. It was during this tour, says Zubi, that Mount Holyoke eagerly accepted Rexam's offer. "We were stunned by the sophistication of the technology," notes Zubi. "The quality of the images that we saw being produced at Rexam was very impressive."
Having agreed to move forward with the project, college officials now had to decide upon the images that would be used in the wall covering. Buckley, who is in charge of contracting design professionals for the college, contacted Lisa Lukas, the owner of an interior design firm, who had served as Mount Holyoke's interior designer in the past. Lukas suggested that the wall covering be imaged with photographs from the college's past to impart a sense of history to the room. She pored through photos in the college archives finally selecting three photos of the Mount Holyoke campus and its graduates from a century ago.
The next step was producing the wall covering. Because of the fragile and valuable nature of the photographs, they could not be taken from the campus to be digitized. Therefore, Rexam had to arrange for the scanning to be done at the college. Lawrence Delesio, Rexam's imaging specialist, brought his Powerbook computer and Linotype-Hell flatbed scanner to Mount Holyoke and set to work. "I had never used my laptop to drive a scanner before, so I wasn't sure if it was going to work," says Delesio. "But it all went without a hitch and the photos made it back to the archives unscathed."
After digitizing the photos, Rexam spent several days manipulating them in Photoshop creating feathered edges, sepia tones and a layered effect to enhance their historical feel and ensure the images would look as good as possible when enlarged to the final, full-scale format. One challenge was to position the photos high enough on the wall covering to ensure they would be seen. "The wall we were covering at Willits-Hallowell was eight feet long by 32 feet wide—very rectangular. We needed to make sure the images were positioned to they could be seen from anywhere in the room," says Delesio.
The images were then printed on eight four- by six-foot panels on Rexam's DMXWPR latex-saturated Wallternatives[TM] substrate using a Xerox 8954 electrostatic printer. During the printing process, Rexam's Magic® Dry Transfer with Fluorex® brand protection was transferred onto the substrate along with the image to increase durability.
JUST WHAT THE ROOM NEEDED
To aid in the application of the wall covering, Rexam ran small proofs of each panel and marked them so the paperhangers would know in what direction and order to hang them. The wall covering was then hung by three painters on Mount Holyoke's buildings and maintenance staff. According to Buckley, "There is not a lot of wallpaper used on campus or in the dormitories, so our paperhanging skills were a little rusty. However, the painters had no problems hanging this wall covering—in fact, they found it easy because unlike conventional wallpaper there were no seam alignment issues."
The customized wall covering developed for the Willits-Hallowell Center was a win/win project for both Mount Holyoke and Rexam Image Products. For Rexam, it was a chance to showcase its innovative new media in a highly visible venue. For Mount Holyoke, it was an opportunity to enhance the décor on an important campus building while at the same time pay tribute to the institution's history.
According to Zubi, the wallpaper has transformed the center. "As soon as the panels were hung, everyone knew they were perfect—just what the room needed," says Zubi. The wallpaper has been warmly received by the students, faculty, alumni and guests who frequent the center. "The feedback has been terrific," he says.
While there are no immediate plans to apply customized wall coverings in other buildings at Mount Holyoke, Buckley would welcome the opportunity to work with Rexam again. In particular, he says, there is a campus student center with a large blank wall that cries out for something. Says Buckley, "Because of this project, I am more conscious of blank walls on campus and the limitless possibilities of what can be done with them."