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Creating an Innovative Academic Facility for Johnson & Wales University

05.31.16 / Adrian Walters, AIA, LEED AP, Associate Principal, Sarah Walker, AIA, LEED AP, Associate

Johnson & Wales University’s (JWU) new Classroom and Laboratory Building combines teaching, laboratory, social, innovation, and teaming spaces and expands the university’s longtime commitment to interdisciplinary learning in a new 71,000SF academic building on the Providence campus. 

Increasingly, many areas of ARC’s practice involve multidisciplinary approaches to learning.  The design of JWU’s New Academic Building addresses that requirement by incorporating flexible planning and detail solutions that will allow the university to respond to a developing and changing curriculum. The building incorporates a wide variety of spaces ranging from the highly scientific Organic Chemistry Laboratory to the more liberal arts focused Drawing Studio. 


Interactive Lobby & Cafe Interior Rendering

Major academic program elements include:

    ·    Innovation Laboratory
    ·    Organic Chemistry/ Anatomy Laboratory
    ·    Chemistry/ Physiology Laboratory
    ·    Physics Laboratory
    ·    Biology/ Micro-Biology Laboratory
    ·    Engineering Laboratory
    ·    Network Engineering Laboratory
    ·    Game/ Network Simulation Laboratory
    ·    Robotics & Mechatronics Laboratory
    ·    Computer Laboratories
    ·    Architecture Laboratory
    ·    Design Center
    ·    Flexible Classrooms
    ·    Dean and faculty offices and administration
    ·    Material & Media Studio
    ·    Drawing Studio

Key social program elements include:

    ·    Gallery Space
    ·    Assembly/ Presentation Spaces
    ·    Dining Areas
    ·    Collaboration Zones

This programmatic assortment creates a dynamic academic and social mix of engineering, art, technology, science, classroom, administration, assembly, amenity, and public outreach spaces.


Classroom Interior Rendering 

In order to make this vision of flexibility a reality, ARC worked with the university to build consensus among multiple departments to arrive at appropriate classroom sizes and configurations that would work for multiple models of pedagogy, departmental philosophies, and instructor needs. Our approach was to create learning spaces that were adaptable to allow for easy repurposing and reconfiguration to encourage alternative ways of interaction between instructors and students. The classrooms are designed at a larger scale to promote team exercises and provide ample break-out space.

The science program’s teaching laboratories are a great example of how a traditionally static program element was also designed to accommodate an unusually high degree of flexibility and space sharing. This flexibility allows the science program the option of applying new and evolving team based learning pedagogies within the teaching laboratory environment. The JWU science program’s willingness to share resources between scientific disciplines had the dual effect of increasing the laboratories’ space utilization while justifying the capital investment to the universities administration. The design team was able to utilize a toolkit of flexible features such as, overhead utilities, connectivity solutions, storage, and casework to allow for the straightforward reconfiguration of the laboratories for different disciplines.


Construction Site Panorama

ARC’s multidisciplinary approach allowed Organic Chemistry and Anatomy; General Chemistry and Physiology; and Biology and Micro-Biology to co-exist in shared spaces. In addition, the plan zoning allows for the possible expansion of various program types as the building and academic programs evolve. This synergy between programmatic, pedagogical, and design flexibility create a truly multidisciplinary facility, with actual substantive collaboration. The facility is expected to be fully operational by the summer of 2016.

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