Volume III: Structures for Science

Foundations for Planning: Building Structures With Soul

We shape our buildings; thereafter, they shape us.
-Winston Churchill

Plans for new science facilities should always have an institution's overall educational mission and priorities at heart. In planning for new science equipment and constructions, the core goal must be the building of "natural science communities" that reflect the aims of the individual campuses and the wider educational enterprise. Because the campus is the common ground of the educational experience, how it looks and how it is organized must be considered by the entire campus community-faculty, administrators, students, and trustees. The shape of curriculum to be housed in classrooms must be determined before the first floor plans are drawn up. Though difficult, the struggle to reach a campus consensus on planning new spaces can create an ongoing campus community that is sympathetic with and supportive of a strong science program.

"But an institution cannot be built of wholesome usage, until its precise mission has been determined. An institution is a machine in that its whole structure and functioning must be divined in view of the service it is expected to perform. In other words, the root of university reform is a complete formulation of its purpose. Any alteration, or touching up, or adjustment about this house of ours, unless it starts by reviewing the problem of its mission-clearly, decisively, truthfully-will be love's labor lost."
- José Ortega y Gasset. Mission of the University

Contents of this page

Foundations for Planning: Mission

The process for developing new facilities for science must involve much more than physical and financial considerations. The starting point for creating a new environment for doing science must be an evaluation of the overall mission of the school and must be centered on large and sometimes difficult questions: what is a university for and what are the aims and objectives of the academic program? In answering this question and others, schools will build a stronger sense of purpose and community, as well as stronger science departments.

"Whether new campus or old, each institution deserves to be shaped by a plan that is responsive to its own realities, marked with its own distinctions, and guided by concepts that are as workable as they are attractive."
- Richard P. Dober. Campus Design

From Experience: Bucknell University

At Bucknell University, the planning problems for a new science center were complex. However, with a specific list of goals, the planners were able to come up with an appropriate and elegant plan. The new center was expected to strengthen the identity of the sciences and encourage interaction among departments, faculty, and students while addressing numerous other considerations of aesthetics and practicality. After evaluating two plans which did not measure up to their expectations, they managed to agree on a gateway scheme which solved both campus and laboratory planning issues.

Asking the Right Questions

Does our thinking about the sciences represent several independent visions or a coordinated intiturion-wide vision?

What works in the science and mathematics programs on our campus?

Building Consensus

Decisions made in the construction of facilities actually affect the entire campus, and therefore must involve a large and representative group of individuals. Members of the faculty, student body, administration, and even other campuses should be brought into dialogue with each other to create a campus-wide consensus on the purpose of the science program. The cost of new facilities demands that there be wide-ranging involvement in planning; since the cost of the project is incurred by the campus as a whole, and not just particular departments, the benefits need to be presented in a broad rather than a narrow sense.

"Man dwells when he can orientate himself within and identify himself with an environment, or, in short, when he experiences the environment as meaningful. Dwelling therefore implies something more than 'shelter." It implies that the spaces where life occurs are places, in the true sense of the word. A place is a space which has a distinct character. Since ancient times the genius loci, or "spirit of place," has been recognized as the concrete reality man has to face and come to terms with in his daily life. Architecture means to visualize the genius loci, and the task of the architect is to create meaningful places, whereby he helps man to dwell."
- Christian Norberg-Schulz

From Experience: Duke University

Duke University faced the challenge of creating a facility that would be a centerpiece for scientific research and education and enhance the interaction and cooperation between faculty and students. The first plans failed to address the hopes of many for a facility that would enhance interdisciplinary research, and so a committee of faculty and administrators was appointed to address interdisciplinary issues both spiritually and structurally. When they were finished they had created a building that contributed to the physical integrity of the Duke campus and remained in keeping with the University's commitment to interdisciplinary research and learning. The full integration of Duke's design and Duke's campus community was only possible through the coordinated involvement of faculty administrators, trustees, and architects.

Asking the Right Questions

Architectural Questions To Ask:

Do buildings, individually or collectively, serve as centers of intellectual and social activity?

Is there an inherent unity, integrity, and coherence to our campus, or does the placement and character of the buildings, walks, and roads suggest that decisions over the years have been made in a piecemeal, ad hoc fashion, building by building?

Can a new facility reinforce what works now in campus patterns and anticipate new patterns and anticipate new patterns tat will accompany future growth and change?

Architectural Considerations

Care must be taken that the actual architectural structures be an expression of how a campus community asks and answers questions about the purpose of the educational enterprise. A site's symbolism and means of serving the larger campus community must be evaluated, as well as practical issues of cost and benefit. In addition, the architecture of a building will have an impact on the way teaching and learning take place within a classroom or lab.

Campus Master Plan

The campus master plan, a document that articulates a specific view of a campus environs over a ten or twenty year period, should be developed or revised in order to provide long-term continuity and a unified direction. This document should lay out a framework for decision-making and outline the use or reuse of existing facilities. The formulation of the campus master plan should engage the assistance of the entire community.

The Importance of Leadership

Though based on consensus and utilizing many channels of input, the process of creating new facilities is futile without the presence of a strong leadership. Whether they be presidents, administrators, trustees, faculty or a designated "project shepherds," those with leadership roles in the planning process must strive to create a community that is sympathetic with, and supportive of, a strong science program.

"It is important to the vitality of teaching in mathematics, science and engineering, therefore, that the best of new programs become known, and seriously considered for adaptation, where appropriate, for use at other institutions. Faculty in other departments and at other institutions must learn about the best of the innovations and must have access to the financial and human resources needed to evaluate and adapt worthy ideas to other settings."
- NSF Report, NSF 91-21

From Experience: Grinnell College

Since 1947 when Joe Danforth first invited students into his research lab, Grinnell College has developed a tradition for blurring the lines between teaching and research. The research programs at Grinnell, in which students and faculty work side-by-side, enjoy wide support on campus and are a chief consideration in the creation of a new Hall of Science. They had already learned that structures could compliment their strong beliefs in student responsibility and co-ownership of their research projects: by issuing keys for an all night science lab to science majors, they invited students to feel like owners of their old science building. In the development of their new Hall of Science they find structural ways to continue blurring the distinctions that separate science majors and music majors, teaching and research, doing science and learning science.

Asking the Right Questions

Campus Planning Questions To Ask:

How does our campus reflect our particular academic traditions?

Does the campus reflect the values of our community today, and our vision for the future?

Is there a sense of place that brings life and meaning to our community?

Inter-Campus Communication

In all the work of designing new facilities, perhaps the greatest resource for planners is what others have already learned. This web page has several examples of the lessons learned from experience by planners at other colleges and universities. Volume III contains many more. But serious designers should not stop there. Strong channels of communication between campuses are the only way to find out "what works" in undergraduate education. Touring another school or "benchmarking," as it is called in industry, can be a priceless experience for an inexperienced community planner. Talking to others who have already struggled to build sensible, sensitive, mission-guided facilities can prevent the duplication of mistakes, and will aid the conception of a space for science that works. They will be able to answer questions and suggest programs that may be adaptable to other campus evironments. Planners who have seen natural science communities-where learning is experiential, personally meaningful, and intellectually stimulating for students and faculty alike-will be much more able to bring a similar program to their own school.

"I'd like my students to learn how to learn to be involved in the process of teaching themselves. And to make commitments-not to be in love with the position, but to be in love with the search, so that if they find themselves not able to hold a position, if it turns out to be untenable, then they should have enough courage to say, "You know what I said last week? I no longer believe that."
- Maya Angelou, 1993

From Experience: Dickinson College

Dickinson College developed their Workshop Physics program to attempt to teach the skills of scientific inquiry rather than the descriptive knowledge of the discipline that most physics classes are designed to teach. The new program emphasized hands on learning to better prepare students to use their science skills in their experience outside of class. It reduced the content in certain areas in order to better emphasize the process of scientific inquiry, and removed lecture-based teaching in order to provide room for direct inquiry and student discussions. Once formed, the new curriculum and pedagogy was applied to the redesign of a 110-year-old science building. Though not an ideal situation, the planners found that they could accomplish much with new furniture and minor renovations, and the new environment they created in the old building wound up fitting neatly with their new physics program.

Asking the Right Questions

Benchmarking Questions To Ask:

These are just a few of the questions planners should ask during benchmarking visits at other colleges. Remember, there are no intellectual property rights on good ideas in higher education.

What most influenced the design?

What do you like most?

What do you like least?

What would you do differently now?

Any surprises?

Any failures?

How was it decided to build new/renovate?

How was the campus planning team (the Building Users committee) assembled?

What kind of learning environment were you looking toward?