Featured Project: Top of the Class—OSU’s Kelley Engineering Center

May 1, 2006
By Janet Wiens • Photography by Pete Eckert
The new Kelley Engineering Center at Oregon State University is at the top of the class when it comes to sustainable design and supporting the engineering school's mission.

By Janet Wiens

The quality and features of the buildings where we work, play and live, influence productivity, comfort and health. We want to spend time in environments that are open, bright, and have materials and design features that draw us in and make us want to stay. If these premises are true, then it's easy to see why the new $33.6 million Kelley Engineering Center at Oregon State University (OSU), Corvallis, OR, has been so well received.

"A number of key goals set the course for our design," says Nels Hall, AIA, LEED® AP, principal design for Yost Grube Hall Architecture (YGH), Portland, OR, the project's designer. "We were charged with designing a facility that would jumpstart OSU's goal to become one of the top 25 engineering schools in the country (OSU currently ranks 33rd in size and 84th overall among the country's top 300 engineering schools). The University also wanted a sustainable design with the goal of achieving a LEED® Gold rating. Finally, the design had to respect the historic character of the OSU campus."

YGH first developed a master plan for the engineering precinct on campus. The 153,000-sq. ft. Kelley Engineering Center is the first of many new engineering buildings scheduled to be built as the master plan includes a blueprint for several more new buildings—adding an additional 500,000 sq. ft. of engineering space.

The center has two rectangular volumes that are linked by an atrium. The north façade shapes the future campus quadrangle for engineering and science while the south façade edges the historic campus.

"In massing and materials we respected the existing buildings on the campus," says Hall. "The center's four floors and exterior materials of red brick, limestone and precast trim, recessed windows, and entry portals framed in stone, connect our building architecturally to other structures. We established a more modern presence through detailing and through the extensive use of glass at the atrium, which was important both from a design and sustainability perspective."

Exterior materials were carried into the center's interior spaces, and were combined with exposed concrete, steel, aluminum panels, and wood to create a palette that is warm and inviting. The interior design provides a setting that is perfect for learning, relaxing and for housing social events.

"We organized the space based on circulation and communication requirements," says Bethany Clouse, IIDA, LEED® AP, interior designer for YGH. "The atrium is obviously the center point, with all other spaces placed (based) on their function and/or relationship to one another."

The four-story atrium is a wonderful space that is very important to the building's functional and operational abilities. Light cascades into the atrium through glass facades and skylights to illumine both the atrium and the spaces located along its perimeter. Varied seating areas provide opportunities for individual or group study, which is enhanced by the availability of wireless network connections. The atrium is also used for social gatherings and can accommodate more than 200 people for sit-down functions. The first floor features a computer lab, a grab-and-go café, seminar and conference rooms, a boardroom and various informal seating areas. Wool, paprika-colored rugs beneath the soft seating areas add splashes of color to the otherwise neutral palette. The walnut and maple panels in the atrium are natural veneer with a clear finish—exhibiting a richness that is simple yet elegant.

The seminar and conference rooms as well as the boardroom all have full AV capabilities. Seating varies in the seminar and conference rooms based on the end-user's requirements, and each space accommodates groups of varying sizes. The boardroom has a paprika-colored accent wall, a semi-recessed walnut credenza, faux leather seating and a beautiful table crafted from Oregon Big Leaf Maple.

"Bringing natural light into as many areas as possible was a key issue, both for the University and our design team," says Clouse. "The interior plan and location of offices and other components maximizes the flow of daylight into all areas that do not have sensitive equipment." The center can house up to 150 faculty and 300 graduate students. Spaces for both groups are located on the second through fourth levels. Graduate students' offices can be found next to the atrium while offices for faculty are located along the facility's outside perimeter. Labs were placed between the two office types—an arrangement that fosters collaboration and, again, the flow of natural light throughout the offices.

Natural light is augmented by various sources according to Richard Grace, a YGH team member responsible for lighting design. He says that the concept was to not feature fixtures in the space with the exception of the floor lamps, which appear as street lights in the atrium. Indirect linear light fixtures and other sources combine to meet requirements for work or general illumination.

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