2008 Facilities Roundtable Abstract

The St. Olaf College Science and Math Complex

Anticipating 21st Century Scientific Challenges & Opportunities

The St. Olaf College Science and Math Complex consists of a 195,000 gross square foot new building for the natural sciences (biology, chemistry, physics, and psychology), 18,000 gross square feet of renovated space in the existing mathematics, statistics, and computer science building, and a 8,000 gross square foot link between these two buildings. Construction is currently underway on the new and link portions of the Science and Math Complex; these spaces will open in Fall 2008. Renovation of the mathematics, statistics, and computer science building will take place 2008-09 and will be occupied Summer 2009.

Design of the Science and Math Complex was a collaborative vision-driven process that involved faculty, students, facilities personnel, campus-wide representatives, architects (Holabird & Root, LLC), and construction managers (Oscar J. Boldt Construction Company). The design-build process was driven by a “Seven I’s” programmatic vision, which asked whether the Science and Math Complex would:
  • Promote interdisciplinary work.
  • Encourage an investigative approach to science and math.
  • Support the interactive nature of modern science.
  • Accommodate the innovations that bring technology into the classroom and laboratory.
  • Incorporate interconnections between the sciences and other distinctively St. Olaf strengths.
  • Be inviting to students, faculty, staff, and visitors.
  • Embody the integrity characteristic of St. Olaf College.

The Science and Math Complex:
  • Provides 119,000 net assignable square footage, including 26 teaching labs, 7 tiered classrooms, 11 flat-floored classrooms, 8 seminar rooms, and 4 computational rooms.
  • Is organized in a fashion that fosters interdisciplinarity while sustaining disciplinary foundations and is richly endowed with informal gathering and student hangout spaces.
  • Has 13,000 square footage of student-faculty research space, much of it shared to foster collaboration, enhance access to common equipment, and minimize duplication of laboratory services.
  • Includes a 7,000 square foot science library with technology-based information access, numerous individual/group study spaces, and multiple points of access.
  • Is a thoughtfully designed sustainable building shaped by a commitment to green chemistry and highlighted by natural light penetration deep into the interior spaces, plentiful views to the outdoors, an accessible rooftop terrace containing a “green roof,” and site and systems considerations that have us comfortably in the range for LEED Gold certification with potential for Platinum.

Describing the Science and Math Complex at a breakout session of the 2008 Spring Roundtable on Undergraduate STEM Facilities will enable us to address several of the stated Roundtable themes:
  • A central crossroads atrium (with coffee shop on one level) and naturally lit gathering spaces at the ends of hallways provide abundant informal spaces for learning in which faculty and students (both majors and non-majors) see themselves as members of a vibrant natural science community. Several features of these spaces serve as adaptable models. First, we intentionally sought to have an element that would bring non-science students/faculty/staff to the building; the coffee shop will hopefully serve this purpose. Second, some of the most attractive gathering spaces are adaptations of the corners of the building where relatively small extensions created beautiful sitting areas. Third, we designed the building to encourage entry from the campus at the ends of the building, therefore preserving the central crossroads atrium for a more “sunken living room” feel. Finally, we benefited greatly from input from the students and campus-wide representative on our planning group; these voices are crucial for the design of public spaces.
  • Four different table styles in the tiered classrooms facilitate active learning while preserving the ability to deliver formal lectures, accommodating with ease the 21st century pedagogies and technologies. The layouts range from rooms filled entirely with movable half-round tables to those with fixed tables, but all enable a class to turn quickly from individual listening to group work.
  • Windows into five “showcase” teaching labs that flank the central atrium and hallway windows into research spaces make ‘doing science’ a visible part of the learning environment. The adaptable feature here is the mindfulness of views, both into and out of the spaces. In many cases, windows align so that one can see from the hallway through a series of rooms. We also arranged windows so that in some entirely interior spaces, one can see through a series of windows to the outdoors.
  • A publicly accessible green roof that will be maintained/updated via student projects, a visible section of pipe that links roof drains to a cistern that stores rainwater to be used for watering the greenhouse, and a user-friendly interactive system to monitor building systems enable the Science Complex itself to be a laboratory for learning, particularly in regard to sustainability. Early planning is crucial to enable the building itself to serve as a teaching element. A Kresge Green Building Initiative grant allowed us to bring a green building consultant onto our design team, which facilitated much of the early conversation about building as teacher.
  • Thoughtful blending of the disciplines throughout the building and shared research and gathering spaces reflect the increasingly interdisciplinary nature of the contemporary S&T community and provide welcoming spaces for engaged, collaborative, discovery-based learning/research. There are three areas of the building with orchestrated interdisciplinary overlap: 1) a biomolecular science wing brings together geneticists, physical chemists, biochemists, cell biologists, molecular biologists, and microbiologists, 2) a neuroscience area brings together cognitive neuroscientists, neurobiologists, behavioral neuroscientists, and psychophysiologists, and; 3) an environmental science wing brings together ecologists, analytical chemists, evolutionary biologists, and molecular systematicists. By grouping faculty with overlapping research interests, we were able to design shared research spaces. This model, which can readily be adapted elsewhere, enabled efficiencies to be realized in terms of utilities and square footage, a tangible benefit beyond the obvious ability to foster collaboration.

    Along the way, we faced several barriers that challenged our planning group. If we consider the first time a team was sent to a PKAL facilities meetings as a start date for our early planning, the project has spanned four St. Olaf presidents over more than 15 years. Hence, the project had several pauses along the way. While at times these delays created some disappointment, in the end the time was crucial to many of our sustainable initiatives as it provided an opportunity to be more thoughtful about emerging technologies. In addition, we needed to change much of the existing culture to achieve an interdisciplinary design and the shared research spaces. Since our existing departmental approach was working adequately, some asked why we should change. It is important to be able to articulate a compelling vision for interdisciplinarity. Finally, in order to get started with the project, we began construction with a two-phase scheme; while fund raising success enabled us to eventually move to a single phase project, managing expectations and desires in a two-phase approach was a challenge.