Facility Focus

Creative Curves Distinguish Both Design And Study At Gonzaga University

The John and Joan Bollier Family Center for Integrated Science and Engineering

Message-bearing banners sprouting from light poles greet visitors to Gonzaga University’s campus in Spokane, Wash.: “This is where potential expands,” “… where promise begins,” “… where purpose unfolds.”

Key players in a sparkling new science and engineering center overlooking the Spokane River herald the 82,000-square-foot building as doubling down on those messages for the Jesuit school’s students.

drawing of John and Joan Bollier Family Center for Integrated Science and Engineering Gonzaga University

The John and Joan Bollier Family Center for Integrated Science and Engineering completes a 270,490-square-foot quadrangle of buildings aiming to enhance interaction between students and faculty of the School of Engineering and Applied Science and the College of Arts and Sciences. It adds numerous open spaces and 18 new labs.

Integration was the goal from the beginning.

“The inspiration, this idea of housing an interdisciplinary way of working more seamlessly together, was an amazing vision that Gonzaga brought to the project,” said architect Lisa Petterson, principal with SRG Partnership Inc. of Portland, Ore. She cited a “great process” of working with faculty over a period of maybe a dozen visits to the campus.

One result: Spaces dedicated to collaboration account for 34 percent of the building.

Just inside the campus-side entrance to the Bollier Center is the Innovation Studio. It will house the first-year engineering seminar course—seven teams of four students simultaneously. Surrounding this space are research and teaching labs for multiple STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). Their proximity and open viewing are by design.

“Our goal is to provide visible confirmation to these students, who are just starting their engineering journey, many and different examples of research topics being studied,” said Karlene Hoo, dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science. “We hope this setting helps them imagine what their own research could resemble.”

And thanks to the open design, any students who are undecided about a major or minor might be swayed just by walking by and seeing students and faculty at work, seeing what’s possible.

Annmarie Caño, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, embraces the possibilities the Bollier Center brings for teamwork across the College and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

Among the 18 labs, one is a Math Learning Center that supports students across programs, as well as providing outreach and tutoring to local K-12 students.

Another is an Environmental Biology lab that examines the impact of climate change on aquatic environments. And another set of labs includes chemistry and biochemistry labs that investigate parasitic, viral and bacterial diseases, as well as cancer-cell growth.

The addition of new faculty over the last several years has necessitated new space, and the Bollier Center delivers, Dean Caño said.

“I love that there are numerous study spaces throughout the building for students and faculty to use to brush up on their work or brainstorm new collaborative projects,” Caño said. “With loads of natural light and access to cutting-edge technology, the Bollier Center is poised to become a hub for STEM innovation at Gonzaga, in service of the common good.”

Visibility is seen as key to becoming that hub.

“The ability to see the curriculum on display was a goal,” Petterson said. “Walking between the buildings on Cataldo Way, students will see the ‘maker classes’: a Baha car, concrete canoes. Those areas are open to the pedestrian pathway.”

The engineering and computer science programs flourish around best practices for student learning — hands-on projects performed by small teams, said Dean Hoo, whose school is ranked in the top 10 percent nationwide for nondoctoral programs. They collaborate with their peers all the way from the first-year seminar to their senior capstone design project.

“Our students learn engineering and computer science principles first,” Dean Hoo said. “Then, they apply those principles to their designs and prototypes while working together as a team, as they would in the real world. Project-based learning is necessary to reinforce and practice what's been learned from a lecture setting. Many of these are industry-proposed and may require assembly space that a traditional lecture hall was never designed to accommodate.”

Monikers given other new labs include Innovation, Circuits, Tribology (the study of friction, wear, lubrication and design of bearings), Materials Engineering, Dynamics and Vibration, Clean Combustion and Environmental Engineering.

Gonzaga campus architect Mac McCandless, now retired, was part of the planning that began in 2016. He admires the sensitivity the architects showed by having the finished product wrap around the south-facing ridgeline with a multistory glass wall, yielding “a great south orientation toward the river and downtown, as well as north toward campus.”

John and Joan Bollier Family Center for Integrated Science and Engineering Gonzaga University

A curved building was a first for Petterson.

“I’d never done one,” she said. “It’s difficult. You can visualize it, but it’s harder to get design and content in a way that makes sense to a contractor. It involves rectilinear ceiling tiles, for instance, and rectilinear cabinets, which are usually square. All of those things had to be thought about in a different way.”

Walking inside, the gentle curve of the floor plan means the end of the building is a little beyond what a visitor can see – perhaps mirroring the creative process students are invited to engage in.

While the building is large, McCandless sees it as made up of “smaller, human-size pieces,” important for a community-minded school with slightly more than 5,000 undergraduates.

“It doesn’t overwhelm you,” he said—and, like Petterson, points to how the Bollier Center connects with the other three STEM-centered buildings. While there are enclosed glass skywalks, “there’s also this interesting pedestrian street between them, kind of an enclosure like a European street, that fosters integration. It fosters see and be seen, advertises that STEM programs are alive and well.”

Dean Hoo echoed the connectivity angle.

“The Bollier Center connects and continues each floor of the PACCAR (Applied Science and Engineering) building, so they almost look like the same space,” she said. “Each building follows a separate curve of the little road that winds on the south end of the original campus space, but from above, the two buildings look like curved rotor blades connected to a hub. These curves give the two buildings a distinctive, contemporary feel, while the blend of brick and glass lends to the gravitas of Gonzaga's legacy.” The university will mark its 135th year in 2022.

There’s also a new skywalk from Bollier to Hughes Hall (Biology, Chemistry, Inland Northwest Natural Research and Resource Center).

The Computer Science Department, whose offices have been sprinkled throughout the upper levels of the connected Herak Center (Engineering, Math and Physics), will be housed entirely in Bollier. They will fill the lower level, the south side, where it connects with PACCAR.

“I fondly refer to their space as the ‘Computer Science Corridor,’” Dean Hoo said. “Technicians are currently setting up this wing to handle the enormous bandwidth and computing power that our computer science program needs.”

Both Petterson and McCandless also point to the entrance from the south, to the lower portion of Bollier. Because it is cut into the hillside, it has three stories on the south and two on the north, the campus side.

“We really thought about that connection from the south, having two front doors, one on Cataldo Way and one on the lower space,” Petterson said. “How do you crease a sense of two front doors that pull people through from both upper campus and lower campus?”

“That provides access to Lake Arthur,” connected to the Spokane River, McCandless said. “There’s increasing interest in limnology, the study of inland aquatic ecosystems, with faculty incorporating it into coursework.”

John and Joan Bollier Family Center for Integrated Science and Engineering Gonzaga University

Another feature highlighted by Dean Hoo is the Structures Lab, a two-story space that will be the largest structural and material testing site for a 75-mile radius.

“Our goal is to expand the construction and structural industry's understanding of recycled and natural materials,” Hoo said. “In creating and testing eco-friendly materials, students and partnering organizations will be able to experiment with a wide variety of materials, including glass and cross-laminated timber.”

The pandemic hit just after construction on Bollier began, causing sporadic delays.

“We were really finished with design pre-pandemic,” said Petterson, who had high praise for SRG’s project partner in Spokane, Integrus Architecture. “We got a good start in the ground, drilled piles, laid foundations, then the pandemic hit.”

But now, Bollier is set for a grand opening and public dedication in the spring, when students and faculty will begin to put the potential, the promise, the purpose to work.

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2021 issue of Spaces4Learning.