For those of us who were brought up during the ascent of what we now call “the Information Age,” it is easy to take all that this era has created for granted. Tech now represents a dominant segment of our economy, and it’s only growing, which means that the slice of our population equipped with the cognitive wherewithal to continue to advance the science industry must grow correspondingly. As such, we’ve seen a rising number of universities erect designated hubs on campus to summon the restless spirit of ingenuity among faculty and students and parlay it into the marketplace.
The goal at the University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee (UWM) was to leverage the assets of the region to develop a world-class, public-private research park that spurs strong and enduring partnerships between academia and industry leading to new products, spinoff businesses, workforce development, and jobs. The UWM Innovation Accelerator is the first building on UWM’s Innovation Campus that was built with the intention of stimulating the industrious potential of UWM research and boosting collaboration with the nearby medical cluster. Far from mere textbook lectures and simulated experiments, Innovation Accelerator laboratories boast state-of-the-art labs and prototyping equipment including CNC machines and 3D printers, which enhances the researchers’ and start-ups’ ability to apply their research.
At a modest 25,000 square feet, an intimate, collaborative environment has also been achieved. The entry lobby serves as a popular, open meeting place, and shared conference rooms inspire collaboration in a similar fashion. One popular pattern recognizable across facilities of this kind is the utility of visual access and transparency—a feeling of openness throughout the building that will inspire researchers to advance their own inventive pursuits. “The shared conferencing facilities, the two-story open entry lobby, as well as the various labs have corridor glazing to show what’s going on within them,” says Cliff Goodhart, project manager at Eppstein Uhen Architects. The benefits of the openness toward the building’s exterior also contribute to sustainability performance. “The building is oriented east-west to take advantage of the solar orientation that was available on the site,” Goodhart outlines, noting that controlled daylight is introduced from the north and south. With the implementation of lighting controls and shading devices, direct sunlight is diffused and allowed to penetrate deeper into the building, reducing energy required for lighting the spaces.
The sustainability efforts ultimately earned the Innovation Accelerator center a LEED Silver accreditation—an extraordinary feat considering how great the energy consumption demanded by traditional laboratory facilities usually is. “The design team incorporated as many passive and active sustainability features as was practical,” Goodhart says. Examples include efficient orientation of the building, an HVAC system with heat recovery capabilities, green and reflective roofing surface methodologies, and photovoltaic panels that generate electricity.
The most striking example of creative stimuli came from the installation of artwork into the project. Upon entering the building, guests are greeted by a large lobby print by Sir Paul Smith, with its bold, bright stripes and colors. Other graphic wall coverings seen throughout the building, however, are more straightforward in their purpose to influence their observers. Abstract prints showing x-ray images, atomic molecules, DNA strands, etc. were selected by the building’s researchers to connect back to their research in an artistic way. “It was an important aim to design the type of corridor that served as more than just a space students jostled through on their way between labs,” Goodhart says. As a result, these spaces have become popular gathering spots for students to converse and share ideas.
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