As colleges and universities consider options for remote learning and a limited return to campus this fall, design and construction teams were able to continue their work this spring and summer by creatively increasing the use of communication technologies and implementing new health and safety guidelines on site.
While students went home in mid-March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, college campuses remained active in many ways—especially with the planning and design of construction projects that proceeded as scheduled. Now as campuses weigh the benefits of on-site vs. remote learning—or some combination of the two—during the fall semester, students are returning to a different campus environment, in which social-distancing and health-precaution guidelines steer most activities.
Within these safety guidelines, campus facilities departments continue to coordinate with design and construction partners—although under reimagined processes. Four academic projects, in various stages of development, illustrate how HGA’s Boston office adapted its design strategies to address health precautions while focusing on delivering leading-edge facilities—offering potential lessons learned in efficiency for future campus projects.
A Campus Gateway for Health, Science & Technology Education
The flexible, sustainably-designed Health | Science | Technology at Lehigh University will house the chemistry, materials science, and biological science departments, and the new College of Health. Designed as a cross-disciplinary lab, the 190,000-square-foot building will create a model of research and productivity. Currently in construction with concrete poured in spring 2020, the building is located at the northeastern edge of the campus, positioned as a gateway to the main campus and the neighboring South Side community in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
To maintain safety precautions, the team increased utilization of Microsoft Teams and Zoom meetings and performed its first virtual field inspection on June 24, 2020. To work around challenges associated with final decision on exterior building façade in a remote setting—such as assessing color choices and combinations—HGA printed and mailed high-quality renderings featuring two different textures and performed on-site inspection via high-definition camera to evaluate texture, color, and quality.
Planning Interdisciplinary Research Labs
Building X at the University of Delaware will be an interdisciplinary research facility with a mix of damp and dry research labs to accommodate 46 research faculty from Quantum physics, Human Disease, Neuroscience, and Bio-physics as well as new research programs to be determined. In addition, a new suite of biology and psychology teaching labs will replace those lost by the demolition of McKinly Laboratory.
The project is in final stages of construction documents development approaching owner sign-off. The team has not missed a beat since going remote this spring. To increase communications, our design team switched to Microsoft Teams instead of email to track core conversation, utilized Zoom for workshops and meetings, and tracked design coordination and document revisions across the design team using Bluebeam Revu Projects.
Throughout this remote process, the team has balanced in-person losses with efficiency gains. For instance, casual conversations in the office—often key to sharing information impromptu—have been replaced with more formal and scheduled communication through Zoom. To compensate for missed casual interactions (and opportunities for mentoring and development), the team has logged onto all-day Zoom calls running in the background, allowing people to chime in on conversations when appropriate. The team also has increased development of 3D modeling to enhance visualization via video.
Integrating Five Innovation Clusters
The Institute for Integrative & Innovative Research (I3R) is a flexible, state-of-the-art facility that will advance the research prominence of the University of Arkansas. Designed by HGA in partnership with Hufft, the approximate 100,000-square-foot I3R will focus on five Centers of Excellence: material science; data science; bioscience and bioengineering research and education in metabolism; food and technology; and integrative systems neuroscience.
According to the Chancellor’s three primary goals, I3R will promote integrative and interdisciplinary research at the overlap between the five Centers of Excellence, in which the research space and shared core facilities will support collaboration.
Additionally, I3R will position the U of A as a leader in tech transfer and commercialization; create opportunities for industry to collaborate with campus talent; foster the mind-to-market phenomenon; and draw industry partners with access to unique ideas, technologies, and tools. Finally, I3R will establish partnerships with the private sector and encourage collaboration with industry, nonprofits, and government.
Architecturally, the building will serve as a hub between the Institute and the entire campus, with multiple spokes accommodating up to 80 cross-disciplinary researchers. The visually open design will welcome CEOs and industry leaders at a strategic location positioned for future development.
Since launching the programming and basis of design (BOD) phase in spring 2020 as stay-at-home guidelines closed our offices and the campus, the design team proceeded with remote team-building and kick-off meetings through Zoom. The team has continued with typical pre-design and programming meetings, often with Chancellor Joseph Steinmetz participating as the main campus contact.
Preplanning continues to be key to efficiency and communications. HGA developed a questionnaire for stakeholders ahead of kick-off, which allowed team members to address questions in advance and helped shape meeting agenda topics and conversations. Such tools as Zoom chat is further helping move the process forward during meetings, which often include up to 30 participants. And while in-person meetings traditionally have been the norm in early planning, the structured format of the remote meetings have resulted in continued high—and even increased—participation because of easy accessibility.
A Collaborative Center for Engineering and Computer Science Research
The Center for Engineering and Computer Science at Dartmouth College will connect to the existing Thayer Engineering complex, doubling its size and faculty count to support interdisciplinary programming in engineering and computer science research and teaching in biotech, energy technologies, artificial intelligence, cyber-security, and related problem-solving fields. The design is organized around collaboration between fields to spark discovery and solutions to global science and engineering challenges.
Since its topping-off June 25, 2020, the building has continued construction. To maintain safety measures, HGA increased utilization of Zoom meetings and on-site web cameras. Temperature checks, health questionnaire, and mandatory face masks promote safety during site visits, while toilets with running water, hand-washing stations, tool disinfectants, and health guidelines are available throughout the site.
Click to watch a video on the innovation behind the Dartmouth Center for Engineering and Computer Science.
Each featured project offers insight into streamlining planning and design. Rather than pausing development, the architecture, construction, and campus facility teams sought creative ways to maintain schedule and budget in a remote setting. Through the implementation of new communication tools, digital design strategies, and on-site safety precautions, HGA, along with our partners, are keeping the projects on track. As students return to the classroom, campuses will be transformed to promote health and wellbeing. The highlighted design and construction processes, likewise, have been transformed, offering potential insights for the future projects that ultimately can save client resources.