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October 26, 2023
Washington State University is set to welcome a new engineering and architecture district to its Pullman campus. From a hillside south of Carpenter Hall, Schweitzer Engineering Hall will serve as the district’s first project when it opens in the fall of 2026. As the future home for the university’s engineering and design students, the building is envisioned as a center for academic excellence, experiential learning and cross-disciplinary collaboration.
Nearly $80 million has been raised for this project so far, including $40 million from the Washington State Legislature, and donations and sponsorships from more than 70 individuals and corporations. The funding has kickstarted the project, and WSU’s wider push to meet the growing demand for engineering, construction and design graduates.
Coming together as a team
As the first building in the planned precinct, it’s important that Schweitzer Engineering Hall sets a great precedent for what comes next.
To do that, the progressive design-build team, led by Lease Crutcher Lewis (Lewis) and ZGF Architects, also needed to get off on the right foot. At the outset, team members were encouraged to take a StrengthsFinder assessment to better understand the unique qualities everyone would bring to the project.
Then we went through a joint exercise to select consultants and trade partners.
We’ve since established a project governance structure. Leaders from ZGF, Lewis, and WSU facilities stay closely aligned in a weekly Big Room in-person or hybrid meetings with project leaders to work through challenges, make decisions, and communicate back to our respective teams. This environment supports interdisciplinary engagement and fosters a whole-team approach to developing design and problem solving.
Between ZGF and Lewis, we’ve agreed to a few ground rules, like only presenting options to the client when aligned on the implications for the budget. While iterating on the design, we are working out of the same digital design model, ensuring everyone has the same information.
More building for the money
WSU’s facilities and capital projects group has embraced a progressive design-build delivery model to get the most building for the money, and faster.
Before starting design, we went through a project confirmation period to ensure we sized the building appropriately for the target cost and the building’s programming and design requirements. A key aspect of this has been applying the principles of Target Value Design. This means using benchmarks for comparable buildings and building systems to target cost-per-square-foot values. Elements of the building are being designed to that value, using real-time market-informed estimating as the design progresses. Design and estimating are continual rather than iterative, reducing rework.
These efforts can help mitigate risks and avoid spending contingency funds that would otherwise help us meaningfully reinvest into the project during construction.
We also established a list of betterments, or desired design features, in addition to the project requirements. These can be implemented as risk is reduced and as budget allows.
Design and programming vision
As a 63,000-square-foot student-success hub, this facility is poised to propel generations of problem-solvers.
For our project teams, the guiding principles set out by the university community and project donors encompass a wide range of considerations. They emphasize that the building should be viewed as a tool for educating the next generation of engineering and design professionals not just through classes, but by putting the engineering behind the project on display.
The design should actively engage students in both learning and social connections. And it should provide a window into the district’s complete development.
Among its many features, Schweitzer Engineering Hall will co-locate academic advisors to offer a more accessible and comprehensive advising experience. Additionally, it will provide students with functional meeting and collaboration spaces, as well as maker spaces, designed to engage students with future career opportunities.
The building will also house classrooms equipped to support distance education, catering to students in Bremerton, Everett, Tri-Cities, and Vancouver.
The project aims to inspire students from the moment they first visit campus, to their time as WSU undergraduate and graduate students, to helping them connect with prospective employers. Ultimately as alumni, the hope is that they will return and inspire the next generation and help take part in career placement.
On a drizzly September day, the WSU community gathered for a ceremonial groundbreaking event, three years before the building’s anticipated opening, and with construction on the horizon.
Marielibeth Vanessa Moran, a computer engineering major, was among the speakers. She may well have expressed the collective hopes for the building best.
“Every student has experienced moments where we wonder if we were even cut out for this, questioning whether our all-nighters will ever pay off,” she told a crowd of more than 200. “Schweitzer Engineering Hall represents a safe harbor that acknowledges these struggles. This building is being designed to ensure that we have our spaces where we can find our people, collaborate with our peers, seek guidance from our professors and find inspiration in each other’s determination.”
Joshua Thomson is the WSU Schweitzer Engineering Hall project manager at Lease Crutcher Lewis, and is the DBIA regional chair for student engagement. Sara Howell is a principal at ZGF, serving as project manager for WSU Schweitzer Engineering Hall.