UM Duluth Swenson Civil Engineering Building


When the University of Minnesota Duluth instituted a new Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering, the new Swenson Civil Engineering Building provided a home for this new program, containing approximately an acre to house classrooms, instructional and research laboratories, and office space. The new facility incorporates the existing circulation patterns that are part of the UMD campus. The project demonstrates the potential for creativity and innovation in incorporating sustainability principles with design. The building has been awarded LEED gold-level certification which was earned by recycling materials in construction, building a green roof and designing for energy efficiency. The elegant wooden scuppers are formed from recycled pickle barrels from Green Bay and create an expressive silhouette against the building backdrop. In addition to providing striking visual imagery, the scuppers serve a functional role in preventing rainwater from overflowing the storm sewer system and causing environmental damage to the local stream beds. Taconite encased in cages lining one side of the high bay area is a decorative nod to the Iron Range. Building materials were selected to showcase the beauty of locally available raw, natural, unaltered materials that not only provide the basis for a sustainable building product, but also serve as a teaching tool for the students within the Civil Engineering Department. Through highlighting the properties of the materials in their natural state, very few ‘finish` materials are needed or used on the project. Natural Corten steel on the exterior weathered to the desired patina within a matter of months, and the interior Corten steel retains its original appearance, furthering the education of the properties of this material. The use of raw and locally available products resulted in over 20% of the total building materials being regionally harvested and manufactured, and over 30% of the materials being recycled. Water is directed from the rooftop, down the scuppers, and into a trio of above ground Corten steel cylinders, which distribute the water into an underground French drain. This reused grey water fills the flume in the hydraulics laboratory for student experiments, or gradually filters back into the hydrological system of the site. In addition to the French drain, a number of other stormwater retention strategies were employed, including; an intensive green roof over 30% of the total roof area, rain gardens with non-irrigated native plantings, and permeable pavers. From the moment students see the exterior spaces and then move judiciously into the building, they are exposed to a number of engineering systems and features that will form the core of the civil engineering curriculum. The building provides a welcoming home for the new civil engineering program, while intellectually engaging the students and faculty.

Constructed, 2010

Old - ASLA Minnesota Chapter Merit Award in 2012Old - Chicago Athenaeum American Architecture Award in 2012