Architects: Louis Warren Ross
New Africa (Mills) House is an approximately 36,000 square foot student residence hall on the Amherst campus of the University of Massachusetts. The building is one of nine structures that comprise the Central Residential Area. All nine buildings were designed and constructed between 1940 and 1963, and sited according to a Beaux-Arts formal plan.
Seven of these buildings (Butterfield, Brooks, Van Meter, Greenough, Chadbourne, Baker, and New Africa) were uniformly designed in Georgian Revival style. Wheeler and Brett, which are both sited at the bottom of the hill and constructed last, are less ornate structures and have subtle Art-Deco details. All buildings continue to serve as dormitories in 2008.
The main planning axis of the Central Residential Area is perpendicular to the ridgeline of Clark Hill and extends northeast to southwest. The axis is defined by the center of Van Meter and Baker Houses, with the remaining dormitories sited to the north and south. The bilateral symmetry and duplication of building footprints and appearance only deviates with the location of Butterfield House and the design of Brett House. The spatial relationship of the planning axis is visually reinforced by the central block and cupola of Van Meter House. The steep grade of the overall site was graded to create narrow terraces between the individual structures.
Mills House was completed in 1948, one year before its mirror structure Brooks House. Although both buildings are designed in the Georgian Revival Style, Mills House has a more refined exterior design and most closely follows the earlier designs of Greenough and Chadbourne Houses.
The rectangular building is 3 ½ stories tall with a basement level exposed by change in grade at the west elevation. The structure is generally 19 bays wide by 3 bays deep. One central cross gable distinguishes the central 5 bays, which project substantially from the main volume and visually divides the façade into three blocks. Copper downspouts and collector heads are located at the north and south edges of these blocks. The roof eaves of the long elevations are accentuated by wood cornices and returns.
New Africa House has a common-bond brick veneer with a molded brick projection to define the basement floor level. The façade includes a window pattern of primarily single-hung sash. The muntin patterns progress from the basement level 4/8 to the first floor 12/12, to the second floor 8/12, and finally 8/8 for both the third floor dormers at the mansard roof. The north and south elevations are distinguished by a large 16/16 window at the central bay to illuminate the inter-floor stair landings. This bay also divides the gable-end chimney blocks. Circular radial pane windows with keystones occur at the fourth floor level and first floor stair landing.
The main building entrance occurs at the central bay of the west elevation and features a decorative wood doorcase framed by fluted pilasters. The paneled French doors are mounted by both a transom panel and a broken arched pediment. The entire doorcase is currently painted black, although originally finished in offwhite similar to other exterior woodwork.
The building site is located along the east side of Infirmary Way. A bituminous concrete parking area with granite curbing is located to the west of the building. Concrete steps with handrails and a bituminous concrete ramp with wooden retaining walls along with bituminous concrete paths provide access to the building from the parking lot and adjacent paths. A bituminous concrete path also provides access along the east side of the building. Vegetation surrounding the building includes deciduous and evergreen trees over mown lawn and low deciduous and evergreen shrub foundation plantings. Upright evergreen shrubs flank the building’s western entrance. Site furnishings include bike racks and pole lights.
The Clark Hill development grew to be known as the Central Residential Area. The first building of this complex was Butterfield House which was constructed in 1940 to the design of architect Louis Warren Ross, who was a member of the College’s class of 1917. Ross remains the most prolific architect of the campus and was responsible for the design of more than twenty structures, including nearly all the dormitories constructed between 1935 and 1963. This body of work established the Georgian Revival style as a dominant tradition for the residential quadrangles of the campus. However, Ross’s later work for the school also includes the 1956 Student Union, which was designed in a more contemporary modern style.
The Central Residential Area was developed between 1940 and 1959 as a men’s dormitory complex. Buildings in this area included Butterfield House (1940), Greenough House (1946), Chadbourne House (1947), Mills House (New Africa House) (1948), Brooks House (1949), Baker House (1952), Van Meter House (1957), and Wheeler House (1958). The buildings were laid-out in a Beaux-arts style plan with a central axis of symmetry and a distinctive hierarchy of spaces.
Mills House (New Africa House) and Brooks House were added along Infirmary Way in 1948 and 1949. An oblique aerial photograph from 1954 shows the buildings an open landscape to the east with lawn leading to the façades. This area has since been occupied by buildings, including Wheeler House and Brett Hall. The character of the landscape to the east of the buildings remains intact, with deciduous and evergreen trees over lawn. New low foundation planting has been added to the buildings since their construction and new formalized head-in parking has been added along Infirmary Way.
The integrated design of Miller House and the other structures of the hillside Central Residential Area is in the tradition of ambitious campus expansion planning of the inter-war and postwar era. In general, the Central Residential Area complex retains a great deal of its landscape integrity, modified by the addition of parking along Infirmary Way, to the east and west of Butterfield House, along the east of Chancellor’s Way, and to the east of Van Meter House. The Y-shaped intersection formed by Chancellor’s Way and Clark Hill Road was removed by 1955 and rerouted to a spur off of Chancellor’s Way located to the east of Greenough House and Chadbourne House that existed since at least 1943. Removal of this portion of Chancellor’s Way enabled the construction of Van Meter House. Many changes in vegetation patterns are the result of new construction, much of which occurred prior to 1959. The loss of foundation planting at Butterfield House, Chadbourne House, Baker House, and Wheeler House, along with the introduction of new foundation planting at Butterfield House, Greenough House, Chadbourne House, Baker House, and Van Meter House has changed vegetation immediately associated with the buildings.