The new Science Teaching and Student Services Center (STSS) at the University of Minnesota is prominently sited on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River. Opposite the Weisman Art Museum at the head of the Washington Avenue Bridge, the building acts as a physical and philosophical gateway to the East Bank campus—the Weisman representing the arts; the new STSS, the sciences.
Location – Minneapolis, MN, USA
Client – University of Minnesota,
Architect – Kohn Pedersen Fox
Size – 115,000 ft2 / 10,000 m2
The Washington Avenue Bridge, which connects the east and west campus, is traversed by 15,000 students each day. The proximity of the STSS to this student thoroughfare makes it an ideal location for classrooms and student services. In addition to science teaching classrooms, Advanced Learning Classrooms (ALCs) and traditionally tiered classrooms, the STSS includes the “One Stop” Center for student services, which accommodates services such as registration, money management, financial planning, and life planning/career services in addition to various administrative offices, conference rooms, and Veterans Affairs offices. The STSS also includes a student lounge, a café area, and numerous informal student study areas of varied scale.
The five-story building is organized with a dense bar of classrooms on the east side facing toward the campus, and a more visually open zone on the west side devoted to the student services program and gathering space for students. The design creates dual uses for circulation space, providing generous classroom corridors and broad stairways to encourage use. Informal study and meeting spaces throughout the building take advantage of program waiting areas after hours. These spaces offer panoramic views of the Mississippi River and downtown Minneapolis skyline. Teaching spaces with raised floors, movable partitions and under-floor air distribution are designed to assure maximum flexibility over time in layouts ranging from traditional tiered classrooms to interactive multi-media project-based teaching configurations.
The building takes cues from its context and expresses its dual purpose. The architectural language contrasts and juxtaposes orthogonal and fluid geometries, the serenity of its form balancing the composition of the adjacent Weisman Art Museum. The rectilinear eastern façade anchors the building volume and relates to the existing campus, while the fluid western façade addresses circulation paths around the site and the dynamism of the Mississippi River.
Themes of transparency and translucency, reflection and refraction of light, layering of spaces and experiences inform the material and formal vocabulary. Materials relate to the surrounding context of the STSS: stainless steel pier covers face the Weisman Art Museum, while the building’s base echoes the warm ochre color of native Kasota limestone. Polished stainless steel piers with varying-width vertical strip windows reflect the fluidity of the River on the building’s western façade. The eastern façade’s striated brick and syncopated horizontal strip windows reiterate the orthogonal nature of the existing campus buildings.
The vertical drum on the south side of the building contains elevators and core elements. The post-tensioned concrete slab construction is exposed and features cantilevered curvilinear balconies within the narrow western atrium slot. An open, sky-lit circular stair connects all floors of the building, encouraging student interaction while providing views out to the campus and River. A commissioned cable-structured art piece stretches from the base of the stair to skylight.
The STSS is designed to exceed the requirements of Minnesota’s stringent B3 sustainable design code, and has achieved LEED Gold certification. Sustainable strategies employed include day-lighting, natural convection, raised floors employing displacement ventilation, and high-performance glass featuring graduated frit patterns in order to improve energy efficiency and building performance.