Unity Hall, Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s new five-story, 100,000-sf academic and research building, brings together faculty from robotics, data science, bioinformatics, and computational biology. Highlights of the $80 million building, which opened in January 2022, are the flexibility of the lab spaces, the varied and numerous collaboration zones and spaces, and the standardized size of faculty offices.
The facility serves both graduate and undergraduate students in an interdisciplinary setting that blurs the lines between departments by providing shared labs and collaboration spaces and offices that are not arranged by discipline. The addition of this facility increases the amount of research space on campus by 30,000 sf (about 18 percent) and provides 65 additional faculty offices, all of which are 100 sf.
The building is tucked into a hillside, with the busiest entrance from campus on the fifth floor, which is also the busiest floor.
The first floor is on street level, providing storefront exposure to the robotics lab. The lab is designed to be easily reconfigurable, with wheels on all the furniture, overhead power on a ducted system, and WiFi, while overhead snorkels provide ventilation. A cybersecurity testing lab, which is very sensitive to vibration, is also located on the first floor to take advantage of the slab-on-grade construction, along with the utility services and storage.
The computational labs in the data science area are spacious and open, with work groups separated by furniture and acoustical partial-height panels rather than full walls. Power and data for these spaces are fed up from floor boxes; whiteboards cover the walls.
Collaboration spaces are located throughout the building. Small 10-by-10-foot meeting rooms, called tech suites, fit four people around a table and can accommodate as many as seven; each is outfitted with a flat screen to connect to students’ laptops. Twenty-seven open “nooks” of various sizes offer less privacy but good acoustical control for small groups to meet, while more traditional conference rooms seat 20 to 24 people.
The Office of the Registrar, Academic Advising, Academic Resource Center, Office of Disability Services, and Career Development Center were brought together in one highly visible Student Academic Services Center to encourage students to take advantage of the services they offer. The reception and waiting areas remain open after hours for studying.
There are five active learning classrooms in the building, where all the furniture is on wheels for easy reconfiguration. The tables nest together, the chairs are stackable, and every classroom has built-in storage closets. The AV is robust: The largest classroom seats 120 students but has nine projectors and screens to project in all directions. Every classroom is also equipped with lecture capture to offer remote or asynchronous learning as needed.
About 35 percent of the building is dedicated to research and faculty offices, 15 percent to classrooms, 14 percent to student services, and 5 percent to collaboration spaces, not including the embedded spaces in the research areas.
The building is open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily; outdoor spaces, equipped with WiFi and power, are available around the clock.
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