News & Insights

Project Exploration | Reber Instructional Lab

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Following WTW’s successful renovation of decommissioned labs in the Reber Building to create the E-Commons in 2017, the Department of Mechanical Engineering (DME) retained WTW to design a new active-learning instructional space. The 9,420 SF Instructional Laboratory & Makerspace compliments the E-Commons via program, design, and materiality to offer an extended hours collaborative learning area within the Reber Building.

The re-imagined space provides facilities where mechanical engineering students can collaborate on active-learning projects and work on rotating experiments throughout the school year in a comfortable and flexible setting. The original E-Commons space set the tone for this new project and also allowed public spaces in the building to be unified by a common design theme.


Interior Design and BioPhilic Elements

The use of a largely neutral palette combined with color accents, graphics, and Biophilic elements creates an inviting aesthetic on the main level that continues down to the lower level where the Instructional Lab is located.

Regarded as dark and dated, WTW transformed the crowded basement space into an open and light-filled learning environment. Removal of interior masonry that closed off the outside allowed for additional usable space. The existing south-facing windows, which had been trapped within labs and storage rooms, are now free to bring sunlight into the entire space and allow views to the outside.

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The open plan layout takes advantage of existing windows to provide a connection to the outside and permit natural daylight to permeate deep into all areas, and energy-efficient LED light fixtures to provide ample light levels for project work regardless of the time of day.
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Vertical moss displays in the administrative corridors bring outdoor elements into the space. Although not living green walls, the preserved moss walls bring the beneficial characteristics of living botanical displays – color, freshness, health, and a welcoming sense inside the main entrance and corridors for students to enjoy while waiting to enter classrooms and offices.

Workspace and Storage

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The new ‘Toolbox’ provides secure storage for specialized tools and acoustic separation from the Instruction Lab space which incorporates flexible, collaborative workbench-type furniture with integrated monitors for group instruction, and hands-on active learning projects.
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Convenient project storage is provided via oversized lockers and is adjacent to a 3D Commons area where students can work together to create and print three-dimensional projects and prototypes using the latest technology. The flexible characteristics of the furniture will permit the area to double as an additional instruction and collaboration space. Other amenities include virtual reality carols, an Unmanned Autonomous Vehicle (UAV) testing area suitable for remote control vehicles and small drones, along with a robotics space, ADA compliant facilities, and additional branding upgrades.


Goals Achieved

The DME’s main goal included renovating underutilized spaces that were not conducive for the hands-on instructional pedagogies today’s instructors are using. Additionally, the DME felt creating an open, industrial, and inviting design would encourage more diversity in the Mechanical Engineering curriculum.
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As the lead design planner and interior designer on the project, the WTW Architects team worked collaboratively with DME instructors and administrators to design the instructional lab that created the desired outcome for students to begin using this fall. WTW achieved the main goal and more by designing welcoming, light-filled environments that encourage collaboration and inclusion. The final design, furniture, and equipment incorporate a flexible infrastructure and movable systems, to accommodate the latest as well as future technology while supporting active learning pedagogies.
Jeffery W. Krill

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Larry J. Payne
President & CEO

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