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November 16, 2017

Computer science building aims to be a home away from home

  • Classrooms, offices and work spaces are mixed together to spark conversations and create a sense of community among UW students and faculty.
    LMN Architects


    High-tech industries evolved with a culture founded in the garage startup company. Traditionally housed in warehouse-style workplaces, the minimalist environment so often associated with technology is now being countered by a very different kind of experience.

    The University of Washington’s new Bill & Melinda Gates Center for Computer Science & Engineering — designed by LMN Architects and set to open at the end of 2018 — will offer students and faculty materially rich, socially connected spaces that encourage spontaneous intellectual interaction.

    Warm environment

    The UW’s Allen School for Computer Science competes with the highest tier of computer science and engineering schools in the world, garnering a top-10 national ranking. As the number one source of UW startups, graduates of the College of Engineering represent more than half of all UW graduate startups.

    Image by LMN Architects [enlarge]
    The center will have a coffee shop and a roof-level event space for conferences.

    Designed to be a major attraction in a highly competitive marketplace, the new building will become a home away from home for students, researchers and faculty — a warm, welcoming and comfortable environment where the long hours spent on site each day are also an opportunity to cultivate community.

    Adding capacity

    The new 135,000-square-foot building will join the Paul G. Allen Center, also designed by LMN Architects, in the heart of the campus, nearly doubling the school’s capacity to accommodate an ever-increasing demand for the UW’s most popular major.

    Located across Stevens way from the Allen Center, the building will house graduate-level research facilities, faculty offices and a 3,000-square-foot robotics laboratory. It will also house a wet lab, a 250-seat auditorium, an undergraduate commons, and a flexible event venue for workshops, recruitment fairs and other community-oriented events.

    Designed to maximize opportunities for the spontaneous exchange of ideas among students, researchers and faculty, a variety of program elements, including classrooms, offices and workroom spaces, are deliberately mixed across five floors to accelerate innovation and cross-pollinate the unexpected.

    Inclusive design

    Design for inclusivity is central to the experience of the new building. At a time when equity is being questioned in many forms — gender, culture, race, religion — the University of Washington is recognized for having the highest percentage of women enrolled in engineering programs of any academic institution in the United States.

    The new building demonstrates a commitment to continuing this tradition by removing the physical barriers to interaction. Rather than organizing the building along strict programmatic lines, it is designed to become a mixing chamber with universal appeal for a diverse and inclusive program.

    Through its architectural craft and inviting material palette, the new building is also designed to attract and retain the most qualified students and faculty.

    Natural, warm-tone interiors define a character and sense of place that support an open, intellectually and socially dynamic culture. Generous common areas are organized holistically as a series of interconnected, flexible spaces that function in many different combinations, from small groups to large gatherings, and encompass the full spectrum of informal activities, regular programs and special events.

    Community appeal

    The approach to inclusivity reaches beyond the building’s doors and into the development of a broadly appealing, mixed-use district within the University of Washington’s main campus.

    The design will improve major pedestrian connections and become a common court space, shared with adjacent mechanical and civil engineering buildings. A new coffee shop facing Stevens Way will activate the building’s west edge and become a destination for the broader community.

    The building’s unique, two-sided curving form responds to the topography and flow of the campus circulation. A layered facade features terra-cotta panels floating in front of a sleek, black metal and glass underlayment, with strategically placed structural elements to enhance sun shading. The material and formal composition is a contemporary reimagination of the Allen Center’s timeless brick and metal facade, echoing the department’s celebrated past.

    Above it all, a new roof-level event center takes advantage of sweeping views to Lake Washington and the Cascade Mountains, providing a signature experience for a flexible range of conferences and functions.

    Whether inside or outside, the new Bill & Melinda Gates Center for Computer Science & Engineering is focused on creating a supportive community and an environment where people and ideas can come together, a place where the future of computer science will be written.

    Teena Videriksen is a principal and director of business development with LMN Architects, responsible for business development activities across all sectors of the firm’s work.

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