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Remaking the Engineering Building: Facility Design Best Practices

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Architectural Division Technical Session 2

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Paper Authors


Christopher Purdy SmithGroupJJR

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Chris Purdy is the Higher Education Practice Director for SmithGroupJJR. With twenty five years of experience focusing on facilities for higher education, he understands the unique requirements of campus architecture including longevity, sensitivity to context, sustainability and student engagement. Chris has special expertise in providing leadership for projects that focus on student STEM education and research. Some of his most notable clients include Michigan State University, Oakland University, Boston University, University of Cincinnati, Western Michigan University, University of Michigan, and University of Detroit-Mercy. Chris graduated from University of Michigan with a Bachelor of Science in Architecture degree and from University of California, Berkeley with a Master of Architecture degree.

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Paul Urbanek FAIA, NCARB, LEED AP SmithGroupJJR

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Paul Urbanek, FAIA, NCARB, LEED AP
Vice President, Director of Design

As a Director of Design for SmithGroupJJR, Paul Urbanek is a highly awarded, highly recognized design professional with over 30 years of experience in architectural design for a wide range of projects. As design leader, he is directly responsible for the successful implementation of the clients design vision. Paul’s creative problem solving process provides fresh viewpoints and new concepts for functionally appropriate, aesthetically exciting design solutions. His expertise extends to projects that focus on student STEM education and research including Oakland University Engineering Center, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, and Michigan State University Plant Sciences. As a practitioner within a large multidisciplinary design firm, Paul is a designer who understands the interrelationships between building and art.

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As architects, engineers and planners for 13 engineering buildings in the past 10 years, SmithGroupJJR has developed a series of best practices related to engineering facility design. These best practices bring together trends in research and education to create facilities that better prepare students for the workforce, foster industry—local, national and international—connections, enhance interdisciplinary collaboration and act as a recruitment tool for the university.

This paper will discuss best practices in engineering facility design as it relates to the key trends below. These design strategies come from SmithGroupJJR’s recent design work with engineering schools at institutions like the University of Illinois, University of Arizona, Auburn University, University of California Merced, Oakland University, University of Michigan, and the University of Texas Dallas.

Innovation Space: Industry Partners Collaboration Engineering schools embrace an innovative and entrepreneurial approach to learning and increasingly provide a variety of facilities where students can learn, do research, and network with students, faculty, and business leaders from many different disciplines and programs. The focus is on innovation, collaboration, and experiential learning. Innovation space blends departments or colleges within one shared space to work toward a common goal on specific projects. This need comes from the desire to have different space types for the full development of products or ideas. Innovation space provides opportunities for partnering with industry and alumni both locally and internationally through the use of technology, specialized equipment and unique space types.

Integration of Research Space The integration of research into the educational setting is a key determinant of student retention. Today, engineering programs often include dedicated space for research activities, allowing students to enhance learning outcomes through collaboration with faculty in research projects. The creation of flexible, functional lab space enables multi-disciplinary work to take place, offering further exposure to students to a wider range of engineering disciplines.

Building as an Educational Tool Making engineering and research tools visible to the academic community creates an impression of openness and accessibility. The concept of “Science on Display” takes many forms, including literal transparency and views into class labs, the promotion of both student and faculty research and the outward expression of core building systems.

Instructional Spaces that Foster Active Learning In an engineering building, these are the spaces are where students can engage in hands-on work and truly experience the power of making something. Active learning classrooms and instructional labs allow students to interact with one another in small groups, make use of integrated technology and present their work together. Instructional spaces for engineering need to be flexible and allow for use both in a didactic, lecture setting as well as for team interaction.

Creating Connections The emphasis today is on both the depth and the breadth of a student’s experiences. The curriculum of any engineering degree program will certainly build the depth that is required. But, increasingly, the breadth of the engineering students experience across multiple disciplines is also being viewed as valuable. Architecture can facilitate this through planning strategies that do not create silos but rather create opportunities for overlap and collaboration between disciplines and industry partners. A proven strategy is one that organizes space by function, rather than department.

Purdy, C., & Urbanek, P. (2017, June), Remaking the Engineering Building: Facility Design Best Practices Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--28796

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