2008 Facilities Roundtable Abstract

A welcoming showcase for science - For all students and the broader community of learners within and beyond the campus


Bio-Chem Lab

Geology Lab

Organic Chemistry Lab

Physics Lab

When the Albion College Science Complex opened in the summer of 2006, it represented the culmination of over a decade of planning, design and construction efforts by the Albion science faculty, administration and the design team at MacLachlan, Cornelius & Filoni Architects. Together, we are pleased to submit this abstract outlining what we feel is an exemplary model of a liberal arts, undergraduate science facility that has faithfully followed the PKAL process from its inception.

Like many schools, Albion was faced with the dilemma of renovating a tired, 1960’s era science building that was too small for its current needs or build a new facility. This was compounded by the fact that the Biology department had been separated from the other sciences for nearly 40 years and it seemed that if Biology did not rejoin the others now, it would be another 40 years before the decision would be revisited.

Despite the fact the budget would have to expand, the administration was convinced (at a PKAL Facilities Workshop) of the need to have all of the sciences under one roof to foster the interdisciplinary collaboration taking place in science education. Because there was enough infrastructure from the existing buildings that was worth saving combined with no other appropriate site available on campus, the decision was made to renovate and add to the existing building complex.

Also, because there was not enough swing space to temporarily house the sciences, the construction would have to be phased while parts of the complex remained occupied. Our team can share many insights about the process that led to the major decisions that were made as well as important items to consider for a phased, renovation project.

The resulting project renovated roughly 85,000 square feet of space in the three existing buildings on the site and added 64,000 square feet of new construction. The project unified under one roof the Departments of Physics, Mathematics and Computer Science, Geology, Chemistry, and Biology. This unification was accomplished both physically and symbolically with the use of a four-story, day lit atrium space that linked all of the existing structures together and served as the “living room” for the sciences. The project was constructed in two phases from April 2004 to June 2006 and had a construction cost of $27.1 million ($182/g.s.f.) and a total project cost of $35.4 million ($238/g.s.f.).

There are many areas where the Albion College Science Complex distinguishes itself. The most prominent of which are its design as a green building project and its modeling of environmental sustainability and its enhancement of the teaching environment by incorporating the PKAL concepts of “science on display” and “science for all students”.

From the moment you approach the science facility, it is clear that it is meant to be a welcoming, showcase for science education. There is a 50-foot bell/clock tower that serves as a beacon to the entry of the building and also was constructed as an anelema that charts the sun’s path throughout the year. Once inside, you are greeted by a dynamic display of the scientific exploration that is taking place in the building. Whether it is the glass-walled interdisciplinary research lab that catches your eye first, or the displays of dinosaur fossils, it is all intended to make science more accessible.

At the heart of the facility is the four-story atrium which enclosed a former outdoor courtyard. It is used for everything from an informal gathering space for students to study to an exciting venue for lectures and poster sessions. It is the place where the informal interaction between faculty and students can thrive and a comfortable space for non-majors to simply “hang out”. It is enhanced with suspended pterodactyls, a wave tank and other scientific displays so that you are always aware of some aspect of the scientific world around you.

The labs and classrooms are also designed to enhance teaching and research by:

  • Building intellectual communities among faculty and students within/across traditional departments through close proximity, shared equipment, and common social spaces
  • Providing state-of-the-art technology and instrumentation for a variety of classroom, seminar, and laboratory settings
  • Fostering mentor-apprentice relationships among faculty and students in well-planned research laboratories and computing facilities
  • Including flexibility for future change as the sciences evolve

One trip through the building and it is clear that this is a place that values the liberal arts, enhances science education and welcomes all to see and explore.

The Albion College Science Complex was also the first project on campus designed utilizing “green building” practices and is one of the first liberal arts science facilities in the United States to receive a Silver LEED® certification by the U.S. Green Building Council.

The project itself has a much healthier indoor environment for Albion College faculty and students. Gone are the dimly lit, concrete block, toxic teaching spaces and in their place are brightly day lit labs and classrooms constructed with low VOC carpets and paints, energy saving exhaust systems and featuring colorful and natural materials. The transformation has added a sense of vibrancy to the learning environment where students and faculty are more engaged in the whole academic experience.

Used as a Living/Learning center of environmentally friendly design, the building models many of its sustainable features. The project exhibits scientific methods of alternative energy use by incorporating a wind turbine, solar hot water heating system and a PV array for generating electricity. Students learn about water conservation from a gray water collection system used to irrigate the plants in the Biology greenhouse, bioswales that capture and clean storm water and an underground retention system that reduces storm water to the municipal sewer system. Material choices are also highlighted with an emphasis on rapidly renewable materials such as cork in the atrium and linoleum in the labs, materials harvested on site such as the lumber in the atrium stair and environmentally sound production practices with wood products that are FSC certified.

Beyond the sciences, the new facility has had an impact on the attitudes and the actions of the campus as a whole. Inspired by the science faculty, the topic of sustainability has been incorporated into the curriculum throughout the institution. Seminars dealing with topics such as Art and the Environment or The Economics of Sustainability are now commonplace. The increased awareness of sustainability issues brought into focus by the green building has also led to an increased campus wide adoption of recycling programs, green housekeeping practices and the establishment of an energy task force to examine additional ways to reduce energy consumption.

An important component of the building design was to include spaces that would allow outside groups to utilize the facility. The project includes a 300-seat lecture hall that can host symposiums, alumni gatherings and conferences. The atrium is also equipped with a warming kitchen and the latest in A/V systems so that it can be used as a space for lectures, sit down dinners or receptions. In all cases the attributes of the green building are highlighted to the building’s guests.

The Albion College science community is also involved in a major outreach program to area school children. The building serves as a natural backdrop to expose the next generation to concepts of climate change, recycling, conservation and habitat protection. As part of the tours that the school children take, a brochure explaining the green building features is provided to assist in the educational efforts. Albion is not only cultivating future generations of scientists, but in the process, educating future generations that will have a better understanding of sustainability.