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October 26, 2023

Innovation Hall breaks new ground in partnerships and processes

  • A new shared STEM facility for Cascadia College and the University of Washington Bothell uses a progressive design-build approach and transparency to achieve their community and environmental vision.
    Special to the Journal




    Innovation Hall is located on Cascadia College’s and the University of Washington Bothell’s co-located campus in Bothell. It is the first academic building in the nation shared by a community college and a university. It is also the first project procured under the university’s approach to assembling progressive design-build teams for major projects by selecting the builder first and the design team following.

    The new, four-story, 80,000 square-foot building contains labs and classrooms for chemistry, biology, physics, computer science, and mechanical and electrical engineering as well as study areas and faculty offices. The building was substantially complete in September, and classes will start there in winter quarter.

    New partners

    Images by Mithun [enlarge]
    Public spaces at Innovation Hall are designed to bring Cascadia College and the University of Washington Bothell together as a community of learners.

    In 2019, the college and the university each received about $40 million in state funding to build separate STEM buildings. But escalation in construction costs and an interest in reducing site impacts led them to join forces on a single, shared-use facility. The opportunity allowed the two schools to take a step back and consider how to align organizational and operational differences.

    To make sure the door was open to the broadest group of builders and architects, the owners released a builder-only RFQ in May 2019. Separating the selection of builder and architect created nationwide competition for both roles. Lease Crutcher Lewis was selected to lead the design build team. Subsequently, the institutions and Lewis conducted the architect selection process and awarded the contract to Mithun. The designer and builder would be working together for the first time, and it would be the first project leveraging Mithun’s recent merger with Schacht Aslani Architects.

    Coming together

    Innovation Hall demonstrates the potential of design and construction to bring people together around shared goals for project success. The institutions, designers and builders came to the table with a commitment to transparency and open dialogue. They created an environment of trust based on an appreciation for others’ skills and experiences, a willingness to challenge convention and take calculated risks, patience, and a sense of humor. The institutions found new ways to connect their faculty, staff, students and programs. Designers and builders developed long-term bonds.

    The organizational model facilitated teamwork. Project managers met weekly to coordinate the effort. Working teams brought the college and university together with designers, engineers and trade partners to consider programmatic, technical and site development issues. Leaders from Cascadia College and the University of Washington Bothell formed a project executive committee, meeting with Lewis and Mithun monthly to set the overall direction for the project.

    Mission-oriented design

    Innovation Hall reflects the institutions’ key objectives for the project: maximizing space for instruction and research; creating environments to support collaboration; fostering active and inclusive learning; strengthening interaction between the college and university; and displaying a commitment to environmental sustainability.

    Maximizing space for instruction and research

    A project definition phase to establish project scope began in January of 2020. It was immediately apparent the budget was not adequate to deliver the college’s and the university’s program goals. Given the objective to maximize space, the project executive committee, Lewis and Mithun decided to target a facility 10,000 square feet larger than indicated by the preliminary analysis of completed, comparable benchmark projects with an understanding the additional space might be left unfinished. The team called this stretch goal “overbooking the flight.”

    Unforeseen circumstances, including the pandemic and a four-month concrete strike in King County, made the task more difficult than originally conceived. But the collective knowledge of designers, builders and trade partners led to efficiencies in site and building systems. Risks were managed so budget contingencies could be used for the interiors. In the end, the goal was achieved. All the spaces in the building are finished and ready for use.

    Creating learning environments, building community

    Innovation Hall knits into its steeply sloped, forested hillside, reflecting the institutions’ commitment to the environment.

    Innovation Hall extends its arms out to embrace an entry plaza at the threshold between the university and college, inviting the campus community in to participate in STEM learning and research. Floor to ceiling glass at the ground floor provides views into the University of Washington Bothell’s engineering capstone labs, aimed at stimulating all students’ interest in advanced programs and career pathways.

    An open stair at the main entry rises through the four-story building underneath a large skylight. Together with an atrium at the west end, it brings daylight into the public spaces, anchoring an accessible route from the ground level to the fourth floor that allows people to navigate the steep slope by going through the building. The stair and atrium are surrounded by informal student spaces that provide a range of social and study environments, inviting students from both institutions to come together. Diverse, non-traditional students were engaged in the design process, raising awareness of stakeholder preferences for study spaces.

    Each institution has its own labs, classrooms and offices. They are distributed across floors bringing programs close to one another, fostering collaboration between the institutions and creating opportunities for cross-disciplinary studies. The flow connects structured study, hands-on work, research, prototyping and the exchange of ideas. The institutions share breakrooms which encourages faculty engagement.

    A shared commitment to the environment

    Innovation Hall is targeting LEED Gold and maintains the campus’ Salmon Safe and Bee Campus USA certifications. The experience of the building in the landscape reinforces the two institutions’ commitment to environmental stewardship. Innovation Hall knits into a forested hillside that is central to the character of the Bothell campus.

    The building footprint was informed by hydrological, arborist, infrastructure, and construction logistics studies focused on reducing environmental impacts and minimizing costs. Restoration of the hillside nurtures the long-term health of the surrounding forest. New trees and plantings are native species selected to thrive in a changing global climate. Terraces along the south side of the building connect program spaces to the hillside environment, and provide places for outdoor instruction. Visible stormwater features include bio-filtration planters at the upper and lower-level entries to the building.

    Walter Schacht is a partner at Mithun and 2020 recipient of the AIA Seattle Gold Medal in recognition of his design achievements and advocacy for architects and architecture. Lana Lisitsa is a partner and project manager at Mithun, where she has managed complex higher education projects including Innovation Hall and the Seattle University Sinegal Center for Science and Innovation. Brian Aske is an operations director at Lease Crutcher Lewis, where he leads design-build projects, and serves on the DBIA NW regional board and the national DBIA progressive design-build best practices education committee.

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