New building offers innovative learning setting

AJ Naddaff

Staff Writer

Just after classes on Friday afternoon, five Davidsonian staff members strapped on construction vests and helmets and embarked on a private tour through the impressive E. Craig Wall, Jr. Academic Center, otherwise known as the new academic building.

Leading the tour was David Holthouser, Director of Facilities and Engineering. Over a cacophony of bangs, clashes, and other construction site noises, he enthusiastically described the construction’s progress and what the facility holds in store for students and faculty when it opens in the fall.

After walking the length and breadth of the building, the Davidsonian offers a sneak-preview of the campus’s newest state-of-the art facility.

Two new wings will be added to the already-established Martin Chemical Laboratory building to create the 160,000-square foot facility, which will be 16,000 square feet larger than Chambers. The wings form an open triangle, joining at the backside of Martin and opening to Jackson Court and the football field. In between the wings will be a courtyard, with a picturesque fountain spraying water downward onto the granite. Part of the outer architecture is meticulously designed to fit in with the rest of campus. For example, the façade facing the Library and Chambers is made of red brick, matching the ninteenth-century Georgian architecture seen on other buildings on campus.

At the heart of the complex, the three buildings intersect to form an atrium. The most impressive feature of the atrium is a 16-screen flat panel display that can divide up to 16 arrays through the click of a switch. Opposite this central display are elevated stadium steps for students and faculty to gather and observe presentations or guest lectures, or to sit and work on their laptops. There will also be chairs and a bar top overlooking the forum, for students who choose to work while peering over the display.

Faculty members from each of the departments that are moving into the new building —biology, chemistry, psychology, and environmental science — have participated in its design. In particular, each of the four department chairs has worked at length with Holthouser, who stressed that there has been “hourly faculty consultation on every facet of this job, and there continues to be hourly faculty consultation.” Faculty members continue to attend regular tours of their lab spaces to make sure the designs evolve according to their liking.

One of the primary goals of the project, according to Holthouser, is to get students to stay in the building after they finish class there. Over his 24 years here, he has observed a geographical polarization of campus: students come to the southern-most end of campus to attend class in the Dana and Watson Science Buildings, Sloan Music Center, or Martin, which form a row of academic buildings. Yet students use these buildings exclusively for academic classes, and seldom stick around after class. “The academic world here starts around 8:30 a.m., officially finishes at 4:00 p.m., and starts to sputter at 2:00 to 2:30 p.m., when you, as a unit, move back to residence halls, [the Alvarez] Student Union, and the Patterson Court world,” Holthouser described. Getting students to stay after their classes might also improve important student-professor collaboration.

When walking down a hallway in one of the wings, one will see laboratory spaces, offices and classroom spaces. Two kinds of lab spaces are being constructed: those for teaching and those for faculty research. The building will fit over 40 faculty labs in total. Each faculty lab will have enough desk space to comfortably fit a professor and four students.

Classrooms and teaching labs will be connected in the new building. The College’s current class schedule calls for science students to attend class, and then separately attend lab. The goal in the new facility will be for students to receive the learning material in one room and go perform it in the next, with no gap in between.

Holthouser emphasized transparency in the new complex. Glass doors and windows make up much of the perimeters of each room. “If this was your lab, people will see what you’re doing,” Holthouser explained as he looked into a room that will be a lab next year. Transparency serves to pique student and faculty interest for future collaboration and trans-disciplinary experimentation.

Student study habits were also taken into consideration in the construction of the building. “In 2000, when I was building the Alvarez Student Union, what I did not plan for is that your generation studies on your laptop, with the television on, your friends around you, and noise,” he said. With countless places to do group work and socialize, the new building caters toward this method of studying. “You will work late at night right here in this building,” Holthouser assured.

To create a relaxed work atmosphere, there are ample shared faculty and student common areas. Some include closed-off rooms with comfortable bean bag chairs, couches, fridges, television sets, and white boards on the wall. Of course, there is also an elevator for accessibility up and down the three levels. A wall of plants, otherwise known as a living wall, will grow alongside it.

The construction of the facility has included a special project with the chemistry department. The department have tested the resistance of different flooring materials to chemical damage to settle on a product that would hold up best in their laboratories. The thoroughness of this test speaks to the care being put into all facets of the complex.

Classes are on track to be hosted in the new building next semester, with all four departments expected to be moved in by 2017. The facility gives students a reason to stay in the academic village, while also promoting group-work, trans-disciplinary learning, and faculty assistance and collaboration. The complex is impressive enough to make graduating Davidsonian staff members jealous. At the end of the tour, one concluded, “This makes me wish I was around for one more year.”

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