After 18 Years, Williams Leaves for Aga Khan Academies

Michael Williams, Director of Facilities, glances around his office, strewn with boxes and emptied shelves, while he recalling the changes he has made over 18 years in his position. After serving at Andover for eighteen years, Williams will leave his position on January 19 to join the Aga Khan Academies as their Senior Manager for Property Development. Williams will help guide the construction of 18 residential schools throughout South East Asia, Africa and the Middle East from the Aga Khan Headquarters in France. At Andover, Williams was in charge of construction projects, day-to-day campus operations and long-term planning and integration with administrative programs. “From a facilities perspective [Andover’s] campus has a really superb design. Having the chance to work on it, and improve it through the years, [was] a pretty special opportunity,” said Williams. He said, “When I came to Andover the campus condition was what I would call possibly inferior condition…on the PA grading system, I’d give it a three minus, maybe borderline two plus.” “[The facilities] weren’t over the edge, [but] they were in need of a lot of help. Because of that, one of my primary goals to get the campus and the department back to a point which we were comfortable with,” he continued. Since beginning work, Williams oversaw projects ranging from the renovation of the Gelb Science Center to the reconstruction of the Memorial Bell Tower. Williams also supervised the more recent renovations of the Addison Gallery of American Art, Paresky Commons and the plans for a new Crew Boathouse. He said on average he managed 50-60 projects a year including “hundreds and hundreds of smaller projects and dozens of larger renovations.” Williams will miss Andover’s community and campus as he moves to his new job. “You’ve really got to say that the best part about Andover is the people,” he said. “Doing anything is a lot more fun when you’re with great people.” One of Williams’ most treasured memories of campus was the Addison Gallery of American Art Reopening. He said, “When you finish the dreams that people had turning into reality it’s really great.” “The transformation of the Addison, and what it’s meant to education, just seeing students coming in to study in the Learning Center. That kind of moments when you’ve spent years and money planning over these projects with a great big team of people, to actually see it real is really nice,” he continued. Williams came to Andover in 1992 after directing the construction and planning program at Harvard University. According to Willams, the Aga Khan boarding schools will have a similar structure to that of Phillips Academy, however, it will house students in seventh grade and higher. According to Williams, the academies will be schools of excellence that are open to all students of talent in order for expanded availability of educational opportunities. “It’s the belief [of the Aga Khan Development Network] that education is very important to the developing world and that the Aga Khan Academies can have a positive impact,” Williams said. Williams’ new occupation will be a “capstone experience” to his career. He said, “It’s a chance for me to do something very different that builds on my years of experience. [I hope that it will] also allow me to make a difference on a broader scale.” “Hopefully my knowledge of educational facilities, and how they’re built, how they’re conceived, programmed and designed will hopefully help me in the process.” “[Aga Khan] had residential life experts and curricular experts, but they didn’t have a construction expert and that’s where I come in,” he continued. Williams said that while at Andover, he focused on four major themes while planning for a construction projects. Preserving the history of campus has been the primary theme for Williams throughout his projects. In particular, Williams focused on contextual architecture, which is new architecture that is “comfortable with the existing architecture.” He said, “Andover has a beautiful campus that has been constructed over 200 years. It has a history that you want people to be able to see and cherish as they walk through. And to do that we’re always focusing on preserving the existing fabric that’s in place.” According to Williams, another theme that he has focused on is “adapting buildings to suit new programmatic initiatives.” He cited the Paresky Commons renovation as an attempt to create a structure that “served food how we wanted it to in the future, not how it was in the past.” Williams’ third area of focus is the expansion of the campus plan. He explained how part of his efforts have been to ensure that new buildings fit appropriately amidst existing structures. Williams said, “What’s really successful about this campus is how it comes together as a whole. The buildings aren’t spectacular isolated examples of a certain architectural style…But how they relate to one another, and the vocabulary they have, and the spaces they create are very, very special.” The final theme that Williams will strive to incorporate into Aga Khan design plans is sustainability, which Andover has focused on since the 1990s. He explained how recent additions, such as the green roof at the Addison Gallery of American Art and the pulper-extractor at Paresky Commons have allowed the school to continue to decrease its carbon footprint.