Engineered to Perfection
Thomas Connors -- Interior Design, 7/1/2006 12:00:00 AM
Holabird & Root designed the Technological Institute at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, in 1942. Although Atomic Age–appropriate, the limestone monolith is, to put it kindly, "not an expressive building," says Davis Brody Bond partner in charge William H. Paxson. By contrast, DBB's new engineering facility, connected to the institute by a bridge, telegraphs experimentation and innovation, not to mention Northwestern's mandate to promote sustainable design. Christened the Ford Motor Company Engineering Design Center—and funded by the automaker, Steelcase, and the John Deere Foundation, among others—the 80,000-square-foot structure has earned LEED Silver certification, a first for the university.
To create internal and external transparency and "get away from the older concept of engineering labs as enclosed rooms with lots of fluorescent lighting," Paxson says, DBB made daylight a major element of the design. Extensive fenestration and a skylit central atrium three stories tall bring sunshine into 75 percent of the interior, a third of which lies below grade. Meanwhile, automated solar-tracking shades on exterior windows regulate light and thermal gain throughout the day.
Almost everyone works within 20 feet of a window or the atrium, which functions as a "village street" with faculty and students sitting at café tables on the ground floor or calling to one another from the open walkways above. The atrium's staircase—with its glass balustrades, treads, and landings—captures sunshine from the skylight to create the lucent heart of the building, a locus of activity between offices, classrooms, and labs.
The list of sustainable efforts goes on: Reflective rubber roofing minimizes any heat-island effect, efficient plumbing reduces water use, a raised-floor air-displacement system lessens cooling loads, and paint is low-VOC. In the subbasement, a 1,200-gallon tank captures roof-drain water for landscaping irrigation. Finally, the university's facilities department estimates that 78 percent of construction waste was diverted from landfill.
Visitors enter the six-story structure through a spacious foyer that overlooks the glass-enclosed prototyping shop, with its drill presses and milling machines. Overlooking the activity from the other side is a cantilevered conference room. "The engineering students are involved in some very exciting projects and competitions," Paxson observes. "In the past, people could walk by the building or through the building without getting to see all the excitement." They do now.