In these uncertain economic times one thing is apparent: educating today’s business students on collaboration, teamwork, and relationship building is essential. That point was not lost on LMN Architects, the firm behind the design of PACCAR Hall for the Michael G. Foster School of Business at the University of Washington. “Preparing business students for an increasingly complex world requires a learning environment that encourages lively interaction,” says Mark Reddington, partner at LMN. “Our goal was to show how a core dynamic of modern business education could be exemplified by design.”
PACCAR Hall brings students together in more ways than one. Previously, business students attended class in a collection of outmoded facilities on the school’s Seattle campus. Through renovation and new construction, LMN transformed the site into a cohesive whole. And the 133,000-square-foot PACCAR Hall—one of two new buildings for the business school—encourages students to work together in a variety of interconnected spaces supported by the latest technology.
To ease the massive building into the university’s historic center and its surrounding oaks and evergreens, LMN split PACCAR Hall into two long blocks with classrooms on the first two floors and two floors of faculty offices above. A three-story atrium knits the pieces together while offering transparency, and is the lively heart of the school. “Students love the building because of its connectivity; they can see their friends from wherever they sit,” says Roland E. Dukes, a professor at the Foster School of Business. “A survey of students showed that this is, by far, the most popular place on campus to hang out.”
Students from all over the campus—not just the business school—make heavy 24/7 use of the atrium’s gathering places, which are distinct but still part of the action. “We studied other universities and saw that community rooms outside normal circulation patterns were just not used,” says Reddington.
Outsized brick piers define seating areas along one side of the atrium. Comfortable couches and chairs encircle coffee tables while large-scale floor lamps give each grouping an intimate glow. Natural light streams inside even on overcast Pacific Northwest afternoons thanks to skylights running the length of the atrium.
At the south end of the atrium, LED displays—in the form of long, narrow strips—replace some sections of brick on a pier next to the café. One moment the monitors display video images of bricks, but the next they come alive with a ticker tape of words sent via text message by students to complete the phrase, “Business is…” It’s an award-winning art installation by UW art professors Karen Cheng and Kristine Matthews.
Responding to context
The two-story, glass-enclosed café has views of a specimen Hickory tree and the oldest building on campus, Denny Hall. The space’s curtain-wall system has a narrower profile than steel and, along with a fine-scaled porch and lightweight overhead sunscreens, enhances the sense of transparency between indoors and out. The exterior material palette continues inside with exposed steel, masonry walls, and fir ceilings overhead. The slatted wood ceilings and walls conceal sound-dampening acoustical material. The roof of the café supports a generous outdoor deck protected by the dynamic projection of the atrium’s roof into the landscape. With treetop views, it is a popular spot even in the rain.
Near the café, a linear gas fireplace with a sleek glass screen is the focal point of another gathering place for students providing psychological, if not physical, warmth. To heat the school’s large volumes, a displacement ventilation system delivers warm air at a lower velocity and higher temperature through the floor near occupants. It’s one of the building’s many sustainable features to achieve LEED® Gold, including evaporative cooling in the main public areas, operable windows in offices, and sunshades to reduce glare and heat gain.
Interiors enhance teaching method
The business school uses a case study teaching method and students learn through discussions with faculty and other students. To facilitate this interaction, LMN designed tiered, U-shaped classrooms that feel intimate even when filled with 95 students. Faculty can walk up and down a center aisle to directly engage the class. Wood louvers screen light from windows so that no one is seen in silhouette, thus improving eye contact. A combination of sound absorbing material in the walls and a reflector over the instructor ensures that discussion is crisp, even in a normal speaking voice. Web-linked digital monitors and distance conferencing capabilities enhance the classrooms. Outside each classroom and scattered throughout the building are 28 breakout rooms with large glass sliding doors where students can continue class discussions or study together, and make use of additional web-linked monitors for group discussion.
“The building is a game changer,” says Dukes. “MBA applications have increased 20 percent and faculty recruitment is more effective. We’ve always had an excellent business school but now we have a building that reflects that.”
Key Design Highlights
- Flexible, connected environments, including the atrium, invite students to communicate and work together in a wide range of group sizes.
- LMN creates a sense of transparency between the school and the campus through extensive glazing in key areas.
- To encourage teamwork outside the classroom, a series of breakout rooms line the atrium and have large sliding glass doors.
- Tiered, U-shaped classrooms have finely tuned sightlines, acoustics, and natural light to encourage student interaction with faculty and each other as part of the school’s case study teaching method.
PACCAR Hall, Michael G. Foster School of Business at University of Washington
Designer LMN Architects
Client University of Washington
What 133,000 square feet on five floors
Cost/sf Withheld at client’s request