Engineering Centers Building

University of Wisconsin

Madison, WI, USA University of Wisconsin at Madison Flad, Architect-of-Record Health + Science 205,000 ft2 / 19,000 m2 AIA Wisconsin Chapter Design Awards Honor Award (2003)

The Engineering Centers Building is organized as a series of interdisciplinary centers that focus on various fields of engineering studies, such as experimental automotive design, computer technology, technical communication, microscopic motor design, and semiconductor fabrication. The spaces needed to support these programs range from open workshops and adaptable meeting rooms to large, flexible lab spaces and clean rooms.

Beneath a large skylight, a three-story interior street runs through the center of the building, providing access and natural daylight to all major program spaces on the first level. Student meeting and study areas border the street and can be used for project displays, student association activities, and major events—all of which help to activate the lower levels. Bridges linking labs and clean rooms to offices on the second and third levels are extra wide to act informal meeting areas for students and faculty and cross above the interior street, further activating the space.

Fundamental to this approach is the concept of “building as a tool for learning,” wherein the engineering systems used to support these functions are displayed and monitored as an integral part of the student curriculum. For example, the street also houses a translucent polycarbonate technology wall, within which the building’s mechanical engineering systems are put on display to act as a teaching tool.

The site for the Engineering Centers Building marks the northwestern corner of the campus and serves as a transition from an eclectic, institutional environment to a smaller-scale residential neighborhood to the west. It slopes down considerably from southwest to northeast, and abuts a three-story, neo-classical campus building to the east. The north wall also curves, linking the building to the existing campus façades while bending back to reveal and celebrate the façade of the First Congregational Church to the west. This gesture creates a landscaped plaza at the corner, which in turn serves as a forecourt for the church.

As with its interior, the exterior façades express the building’s technology-enriched program. As such, the walls are layered to reveal the means of construction: brick is treated in a modern way, detailed as a non-load bearing panel supported from behind by a precast concrete panel, which itself is hung off the concrete superstructure. Glazing is developed as a modular system of tall windows inserted into openings in the wall panels or grouped to create window-walls.

By using materials sympathetic to local context, but detailing them to express the technology of construction, the Engineering Centers Building respects tradition while communicating the innovation intrinsic to one of the country's foremost engineering programs.

Image 1 / 7 | © Scott McDonald/ Hedrich Blessing