UM Duluth Swenson Laboratory Science Building


The site plan for the new Laboratory Science Building (LSB) takes its cues from the concept of “Science on Display.” This concept embraces the idea that “seeing” is critical to “understanding”, thus the building incorporates an atrium and glass-walled classrooms, as well as interactive outdoor learning & contemplative spaces. Clad in steel, slate, and brick, the LSB will be one of three landmark buildings that act as gateways onto campus. The LSB will be the main gateway for access to campus from the south. The building will operate as a bridge over one of the main campus arterials, tying the new space to existing science buildings. The act of adding a sense of transparency to the design of both the interior and exterior rooms allows activities normally conducted in opacity to be revealed. This helps those passing through the building to understand its function, or at least have their interests piqued by what they see. The designer was charged with integrating the ideas of transparency, interior/exterior relationships, and a working outdoor laboratory into usable, engaging spaces. The result features two outdoor courtyards. The courtyards are designed as a transition space for pedestrian circulation and as a gathering space for students, faculty, and staff. The upper courtyard will be located in the northwest elbow of the building. It is intended to serve as a gathering space, as well as a contemplative space. The upper courtyard will be bordered with a grove of deciduous trees, a seat wall, and will be accented with three sculptural cubes made of perforated metal. The cubes will be lit from within for year round use. They will act as a visual counterpoint for contemplation within the plaza. The lower courtyard will be located to the south of the LSB. The lower courtyard will feature a two-tiered experimental garden pool, which is separated by a curved concrete weir. The pool also functions as a destination for stormwater runoff from the surrounding site and roof of the LSB. The upper pool is a water garden with a special emphasis on the cultivation of wild rice. Wild rice was chosen for its symbolism and importance to the Native American population of northern Minnesota. It is an essential component to the Native American way of life. Its incorporation into the water garden allows for a subtle connection to and appreciation of the Native American heritage. The designer worked very closely with tribal representatives as well as Science faculty to gain access to specimen wild rice plants and to understand the specific needs for proper cultivation. The creative skills of the landscape architect were challenged by the need to integrate the wild rice cultivation garden into a small section of the larger water body. This was extremely difficult, as wild rice must be cultivated in a very specific and delicate environment. Unique underwater detailing, creating a circulatory system for water flow suitable for wild rice, and integrating pedestrian access to the water garden was successfully achieved in the final design. Stormwater runoff will be collected and discharged into the lower pool, from which the water will be circulated to the upper pool to maintain the water flow necessary for wild rice. The garden will be used as an outdoor laboratory for science students and faculty. It is incredibly exciting that all of these extremely complex components have been integrated into a visually simple, clean result. Both courtyards take cues from the unique north woods landscape that surrounds Duluth. New groves of northern forest trees will compliment the two courtyard designs. The trees will help tie the building and its outdoor spaces to the campus landscape and to the overarching northern Minnesota native ecosystem, quietly reinforcing the idea that UMD is a uniquely northern Minnesota university. The design of the LSB should be considered a groundbreaking project due to the designer`s thoughtful resolution of the many complex issues involved in creating simple, elegant places that function both aesthetically and scientifically. The design also succeeds in creating a strong entry gateway to campus, while highlighting the transparency ideal represented in the ‘Science on Display` concept.

Constructed, 2006

Old - ASLA Honor Award in 2007Old - ASLA Minnesota Chapter Design Award in 2007