Supporting scientific research into sustainable materials, water, and air quality, the multi-disciplinary laboratory facility celebrates informal interaction. Layers of community dialogue between specializations weave together the program functions and the social fabric of the campus, while retaining the core mission of controlled research. Themes of walkability, water conservation, daylight access, and renewable materiality throughout the building design and engineering work together with social spaces and transparency to create a vibrant community hub.
Program and Site
The project site lies adjacent to the landmark Observatory Hill, mediating between the grassland ecology of the Palouse and the built environment of the WSU campus core. Unlike neighboring structures, the new building is set back only minimally from the street edge with wide sidewalks and street plantings, setting a precedent for dense development along a new campus expansion corridor. Part of the building extends into the hillside, creating an earthen roof condition.
The architectural concept derives form from two overall program functions: a “Workhorse Bar” housing secure laboratories, offices, and workstations; and a “Showcase Bar” that presents the ongoing research work to the campus. Transparent workspaces such as a high-bay heavy materials lab, seminar room, and flexible collaboration studio engage researchers and visitors as well as the larger campus community.
The intersection of the two program bars creates a “Town Square,” a café and lounge that is the buzzing social hub of the program. Here, both the general public and the program’s researchers can intermingle, enjoying views of the campus, the Palouse, and the Showcase Bar’s active spaces. The connected atmosphere continues into the Workhorse Bar, with controlled laboratories organized around a central “Main Street” with open workstations, team conference areas, casual seating, and computer simulation labs.
To encourage interaction between floors, the Main Street concept extends vertically as well as horizontally. Crimson-colored stairwells in the middle of the floor plate, lit by clerestory skylights, promote cross-floor interaction. Researchers in different study areas are constantly aware of the other groups working in the building, and have multiple opportunities to pause, share, and connect, reinforcing interdisciplinary exchange.
Rainwater collection supplies 85% of non-potable water demand. Daylight quality is carefully calibrated from all angles, with digitally modeled sunshades making panoramic views possible without glare in all seasonal conditions. In a demonstration of sustainable materiality, the Showcase Bar is framed not with steel but with structural timber, expressing WSU’s history of innovation in the development of engineered wood building materials. The interior finish approach is honest and economical, with concrete floors, recycled ceiling and wall materials, and regional wood products. Structural materials such as brick and concrete decks are exposed without additional interior layers, stimulating discussion relevant to the program.