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November 18, 2010

UW's Foster business school built on connections

  • New complex has been designed to have an open, social feel.


    If business school is about making connections, then the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business goes above and beyond.

    It’s not just about establishing personal relationships that lead to future business opportunities. Connectivity is also embedded within the transformation of the school’s physical environment and how it can enrich the interactive experience — encompassing students, faculty, staff and visitors — at the heart of modern business education.

    Flexible spaces

    The notion of integrated communities underlies the design concept for the Foster School project, where the social dynamic of business education, the natural environment and campus landscape are embraced as interrelated influences in the architectural experience. Common areas are organized as a series of connected parts that function in many combinations depending on needs and circumstances.

    This strategy anticipates a diverse spectrum of informal student encounters, regular programs and special events, with a consistent focus on the quality of social interaction. Performance requirements for general circulation and gathering areas are considered at the same level of detail as core program areas, including issues such as acoustics, lighting and technology.

    Images courtesy of LMN [enlarge]
    Paccar Hall, which opened in September, has 133,000 square feet of offices, classrooms and student common areas for the UW's Foster School of Business.

    Where possible, connectivity between functional areas is achieved through porosity of fixed elements and transparency of surfaces, providing an overall feeling of spaciousness, as well as extending daylight deeper into interior spaces. Building entrances, circulation and views are organized in direct response to the surrounding landscape, site topography and campus pathways.

    Two buildings connected

    Construction of the privately funded, 133,000-square-foot Paccar Hall, the first phase of the project, is now completed and the second phase of construction will soon begin. Phase two entails the construction of a publicly funded, 63,000-square-foot building that replaces the obsolete Balmer Hall and the renovation of the subterranean Foster Business Library.

    Occupying a central position in the complex, it will connect undergraduate, graduate and executive education programs with faculty and administration, as well as define public spaces that integrate the business school community with the broader campus.

    Though delivered in two phases to accommodate multiple funding sources and sequential occupancy, the two new buildings will function as one. They will also form an exterior courtyard space with the existing Bank of America Executive Education Center.

    Classrooms and offices are organized in a consistent, stacked relationship that steps with the sloping contours of the site across both project phases. In turn, distribution of core program spaces is interwoven with a series of smaller meeting areas that support both planned and spontaneous interaction among students, faculty, staff and visitors.

    ‘Largest’ fire-safety system

    A four-story atrium runs the length of Paccar Hall. Glass office walls also serve as fire protection.

    Of course, the success of any design concept is dependent on the quality of technical development and execution. The final arrangement of building components and systems must reinforce the core vision while solving a wide range of complex technical requirements.

    One such example involves the glass-enclosed offices that form the north edge of Paccar Hall’s central interaction space: a four-story daylighted atrium that runs the full length of the building. Both interior and exterior walls of this string of offices are made of full-height, continuous aluminum-framed windows that also perform as a fire separation, using a water curtain fire-suppression system.

    The application of this system, among the largest of its type, allowed the building to be divided into separate fire-rated compartments, which in turn avoided the need for solid fire-rated wall construction. Hence, the offices are immersed in daylight and have expansive views, and also make a visual connection to the central atrium.

    Improved library

    Work has begun on the second phase of the Foster complex, which includes a 63,000-square-foot building to replace Balmer Hall. Sellen Construction, also the general contractor for Paccar Hall, is slated to finish in May of 2012.

    The second-phase project breathes new life into the existing below-grade Foster Business Library through a few simple design moves, such as relocation of the library’s main entry. Previously accessed via an obscure basement passageway, the new entry connects directly with Paccar Hall’s central atrium.

    The courtyard plaza above the library — reconfigured to provide gathering places and seating areas — takes on a new, more active character enlivened by the transparent facades and circulation pathways of the new buildings.

    Paccar Hall’s tiered, U-shaped classrooms provide the workhorse functionality to cultivate the interactive, student-to-student discussion format that is at the core of business education programs. Combined with a regular distribution of small breakout rooms, these spaces are designed to accommodate groups and meet their technical needs. Natural light and appropriate room acoustics enhance the quality of space and comfort.

    Public-private financing

    Funding for the project leveraged private philanthropy ($95 million total project costs for Paccar Hall) with state funding ($46 million total project costs for the second phase).

    Given the well-known challenges of state budgets these days, the future success of our university campuses may very well depend on this type of public-private financial support.

    And while the origin of project funding typically has little bearing on design, the spirit embodied in the joint funding approach to the Foster School of Business project provided a great starting point for designing a building that is predicated on making connections.

    George Shaw is a partner at LMN.

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