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Computer science surge sparks campus building boom

Ann Bednarz | March 24, 2015
College campuses across the U.S. are building new computer science facilities that encourage hands-on education and interdisciplinary research.

trinity univ eyp tim griffith

Space is tight for computer science students at the University of Washington. The program can accommodate only one third of UW students who fulfill prerequisites and apply to the major. With lobbying support from a number of big-name tech neighbors Microsoft, Amazon and Zillow, to name a few -- the university is soliciting state funds to help pay for a second building for its Computer Science & Engineering department in Seattle. With a new building, UW expects to double its compsci enrollment.

UW isn't alone. Colleges and universities across the country have been building new facilities to keep up with expanding STEM science, technology, engineering and math -- programs. Cornell University, University of California at Merced, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and George Washington University in Washington, D.C., are just a few of the many schools with slick new facilities for computer science and engineering (see pictures of new compsci buildings).

As colleges add capacity, they're also rethinking how STEM facilities should be designed.

"The buildings that we're designing now are really about engaging people in the sciences," says architect Leila Kamal, vice president of design & expertise at EYP Architecture & Engineering.

One of EYP's newest STEM buildings is at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas (pictured at top). The Center for the Sciences & Innovation (CSI) is designed to encourage hands-on education and interdisciplinary research. Home to six departments, it's a campus hub for students and faculty across all majors. Tech is on display everywhere, from glass-walled laboratories that let visitors view experiments to an open-air innovation lab (photo below).

CSI is representative of what many institutions want to achieve, Kamal says. "They're all looking to create a welcoming space for students and faculty to congregate, study and learn. Creating a destination place on campus is a huge theme. They're also trying to advance student and faculty research," she says. "Nine times out of 10, they're coming from an environment that's highly inflexible and won't support contemporary, modern pedagogy."

Today's STEM architecture is a reflection of more contemporary learning methods. Long, empty hallways are avoided. There are fewer traditional lecture halls and more opportunities for hands-on instruction. Labs are on display instead of tucked in basements. Circulation spaces become opportunities for students and professors to mingle and collaborate.

"We're investigating ways to create spaces that are adaptable, multimodal, and flexible," says Mark Thaler, senior associate and education practice leader at global design firm Gensler. "We bring in natural light, we create transparency between the corridor and what's happening in the classroom. The idea is to create spaces that people want to be in and will learn better in."


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