The mandate of flexible, interdisciplinary teaching and learning spaces is becoming a common provision in the design of today’s academic science buildings. Designers must interpret an institution’s need for flexibility beyond a basic lab planning or classroom module. A strong understanding of adaptable design can help facilitate a model of interdisciplinary study that extends beyond campus boundaries, to encourage students to apply learned concepts in real-world scenarios.
Learning by doing is key to Beverly, Mass.-based Endicott College’s classroom-meets-corporate approach to education. Hands-on, collaborative study is the driver behind the design and construction of the recently completed 67,000-sf Curtis L. Gerrish School of Business and Ginger Judge Science Center. Designed as two separate wings connected via a two-story atrium space, the three-story building unites the Business and Science programs under one roof, to foster synergy between curriculums.
This model of education illustrates Endicott College’s commitment to attracting top research talent to their campus. It also focuses on giving students the opportunity to connect and consult with real businesses to understand current trends and changing needs. Students are encouraged to develop solutions to these needs, with the benefit of choices in the support spaces they can use to pursue their coursework. The building houses high-tech science labs, team building labs, interactive multimedia classrooms, conference rooms, a Bloomberg terminal room and the Colin and Erika Angle Center for Entrepreneurship.
Building design: Uniting different programs
The exterior design of each building wing is indicative of the two distinct programs within. In creating an interdisciplinary culture, it was still important for each school to maintain their individual program identity. The Gerrish Business School wing is composed of a more traditional New England brick façade that blends with the existing campus context. The Judge Science Center wing stands out with more glazing and lighter-colored, modern materials. A place of study, research and discovery, the building effectively brings the two different disciplines of business and science together, but still offers visual cues to each school’s unique identity. The central two-story atrium unifies the two schools by serving as an open social area to encourage collaboration between students and professors. A shared 160-seat auditorium opens directly onto the lobby, allowing the college to use it in off hours to hold a variety of functions. The building’s two wings are connected at each of the three levels by an open stair that focuses views back to the rest of the academic campus. At the terminus of each building’s wing, open student collaboration zones with comfortable seating encourage peer-to-peer learning outside the classroom, helping advance interaction and continued conversations. Faculty offices are positioned adjacent to teaching spaces to promote accessibility and extend opportunities for learning.
The Judge Science Center houses classrooms for physical sciences, anatomy and physiology, biology and microbiology, cell-molecular biology, chemistry/biochemistry and environmental sciences, as well as prep rooms, workrooms, dry and wet labs, a small robotics lab and general research labs. Housed on the entry level, the Angle Center for Entrepreneurship serves as a program to span both the business and science disciplines as it establishes bridges between academia and the business world. By partnering with business and science leaders, entrepreneurs and experts, the Center promotes a wide variety of opportunities for students to gain valuable real-world experience. The Center will also provide mentoring and career advice for student and alumni ventures. Consistent with the building’s entrepreneurial language and goals, it houses a computer science room and a STEM incubator lab, which was designed to stimulate startup biotech business ventures and integrate industry into the building.
Responsive learning environments
The project team’s efforts to create a highly flexible learning environment extended beyond the classroom, seeking ways that the building can quickly reconfigure to allow for greater utilization and easier scheduling. Flexible furnishings, high-end technology and operable walls allow the various spaces to be easily reconfigured to support a variety of pedagogies.
In the Science Center, the operable wall partitions in the chemistry labs allow for the scaling up and down of rooms to create a variety of teaching environment sizes. Instructors are able to walk freely throughout a classroom lab of any size and interact with students. Adequate lab support spaces were planned to be accessible from the interior of the class labs, as well as from the exterior corridor, without disruption to the class. Some of the major key drivers of the lab design were:
- Visibility of teacher from each student station.
- Adequate space for demonstrations and movement throughout the classroom.
- Ability to easily reconfigure the classrooms into different seating arrangements.
- Visibility into the labs from the corridor to see “teaching on display”.
As a result of these design goals, the design and construction team introduced some playful elements into the lab spaces to promote maximum functionality and create a highly engaging learning environment. Bright colors were used in the labs to energize users and set the tone for exploratory research activities. Full expanses of the wall were covered with whiteboard paint to establish large areas for teaching and impromptu problem solving. Optimizing flexibility in all the environments has allowed for the best possible classroom/lab utilization. The labs, with the exception of the chemistry lab, are designed with adaptable workspaces and tables that can be reconfigured, and are moveable and adjustable in height to accommodate a number of research and study activities.
Additionally, all service drops to the tables (vacuum, data, power and compressed air) are housed in the ceilings and can be easily relocated depending on the configuration needs of the room. Each lab is equipped with at least one variable-air-volume hood to accommodate and anticipate a changing curriculum. The lab is also equipped with a building RO/DI system which delivers purified water to the various labs. Lab utilities such as snorkel hoods are also accessed from ceiling panels, and pivot easily and extend down to the work tables.
In addition to the specialized spaces already mentioned, the Gerrish Business School wing includes two computer labs, 40 offices, 12 classrooms, a flexible learning classroom and various team building lab rooms. The team building labs are equipped with four tables and seating to accommodate five to six students. To promote interactive learning, each table is equipped with flat panel televisions and controls. A centrally located teaching station controls the televisions at each table, as well as the wall displays. The Bloomberg room in the business wing was designed as a specialized classroom for management students, as they learn how to research and analyze market and financial data using financial tickers, computers and televisions displayed around the classroom.
The nuts & bolts: Construction challenges
A nine-month pre-construction program was instrumental in prioritizing the needs of the college and assuring their requirements were addressed for many complex lab (for both science and business) spaces. Sustainability is a priority and part of Endicott’s overall master plan for the campus, therefore all HVAC and lighting required in-depth studies to ensure compliance. This required a peer review consultant, as mandated by the building stretch codes, to review the MEP systems proposed for the project, evaluating and analyzing all proposed systems for maximum energy efficiency. Additionally, when building began, a collaborative construction approach was used as this method maximizes value and minimizes waste. This approach focuses on the overall goal of the project, rather than individual elements, utilizing team-based schedules and decentralizes decision making.
This project on an active campus presented a number of challenges. Special attention was paid to site logistics and the timing of various construction activities to avoid any major disruptions to those using the adjoining campus facilities. Site management and safety were important throughout the process. The new building occupies a very important previously developed site on the main approach to campus. Situated on a pond at the intersection of the student dormitories and the academic campus, the building is ideally located opposite the dining hall and bookstore.
One of the more challenging aspects of this project was the siting. Located at what is considered the center of the campus, the building is flagged on three sides with high-traffic pedestrian walkways. Additionally, during the final stages of construction, a bagel/bakery shop was added to the plan. Quickly identifying and initiating open dialogue with the bakery operation, working cooperatively with the design, mechanical and finish space requirements, ensured this change to the overall project wouldn’t delay the building completion schedule.
The project team’s goal was to manage capital resources to deliver a dynamic multi-use environment that engages faculty and students through promoting collaboration. To date, it’s evident that students and faculty are enjoying and using the building in the ways the team had planned and more. The flexibility of each space encourages a diversity of uses, inviting people to appropriate a media room, a corridor, a wall or a lab bench, and use it in the way that best suits their academic needs.
Nick Koulbanis, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, Tsoi/Kobus & Associates has more than 10 years of experience and has a range of expertise that includes college and university, S&T, healthcare and commercial projects. Tyler Virden is a project executive at Windover Construction and is responsible for overall management and direction of assigned projects.