History of Project | Q&A w/Vin Manno | Timeline

The History of the Academic Center Renovation Project 

The roots of this project go back to the 2015-16 academic year. The faculty involved in teaching various studio courses suggested that their courses would be enhanced by transforming the separate studio spaces on the second floor into a single, large, open space.

We heard from the faculty and staff associated with the fabrication spaces on the first floor, and their suggestions were similar—that the shop spaces would benefit from being combined into fewer, larger spaces with better connections to adjacent classrooms and public spaces.

They made compelling cases, so Olin allocated funds to hire an architect to work with a team of faculty and staff during the summer of 2016 to develop a schematic plan that could be used to raise money for the project. The “design” elements of this project are actually quite simple and straightforward. The faculty identified which rooms they wanted to combine, which led to the identification of which walls would be removed. 

The two other priorities were to visually open the spaces to the corridors by adding new windows and to maximize the number of magnetic whiteboards in the studio space by covering all remaining walls. Fundamentally, the task was to design an empty box. Other requirements such as power and ventilation were slated for the shop spaces. All these elements were incorporated in the final schematic design. What we realized after completing this work was that we had essentially completed the architectural design process, since the scope of work was relatively limited and simple. 

Fast-forward to the summer of 2017. The trustees of the college pledged their personal funds to pay for the renovation. We found out about their pledged support after the spring 2017 term ended. This was wonderful news, but given the timing, it put us into a tight time frame if we want to do the renovation in the summer of 2018. (Given the scope of the project, it can be done only in summer.) We considered the tight time frame and the fact that we essentially had a nearly complete design from the 2016 work and decided to approach the project differently. Instead of creating a large standing committee/team to work on the project, we decided to let a project manager assemble small groups of people as needed to work on certain parts of the project. We thought this would be more efficient and would not overly intrude on the already packed schedules of faculty, students, and staff. Executive Vice President Steve Hannabury has been acting in that role.

In the past few weeks, the following have occurred:
  • The studio course faculty (Aaron Hoover, Ben Linder, and Lawrence Neeley) met with the architects to confirm design elements.
  • Daniela Faas and Bruce Andruskiewicz have been working extensively with the architects on the layout of equipment in the new shop spaces. They have also involved the student shop NINJAs in this planning work.
  • In October, in an effort to inform students more fully about the project and to gather input, Aaron Hoover and Lawrence Neeley invited all students to attend a session in the Crescent Room.

As of this writing, we are entering a transition period when the activity will shift from preparing the construction documents to determining how the new spaces will be used. In this phase, we welcome and encourage more faculty and student involvement.  

Some specific upcoming activities: 
  • The architects and engineers are working to specify renovation details such as HVAC, lighting, electrical power, and other utilities.
  • Chief Information Officer Rick Osterberg is just beginning to design the audio/visual systems for the studio space. He will include both faculty and students in this process.
  • We are hopeful that the project budget will allow us to consider new furniture in the studio space. If so, faculty and students will be involved in the design and testing of furniture options.
  • The work to design and finalize the layout of the shop equipment will be ongoing throughout the spring. The shop NINJAs will continue to be involved in those efforts.
  • Small groups of faculty and students will meet with Provost Vin Manno to discuss how the new studio and shop spaces will be used.

Q&A with Provost Vin Manno

How will the AC renovation project enrich the classroom experience?

We sometimes forget that the campus was designed before the curriculum was developed. Presently, there are classes that would benefit from having larger groups together, but there are very few spaces where that is possible. We have rooms that hold 40 people, but the next-largest available space holds 300. There is nothing in between. Classes such as Design Nature, ModSim, Products & Markets and UOCD have to go to the Norden Auditorium or the Crescent Room to get everybody together in one room. The redesign should help address these issues and give us more room for experimentation.

Our curriculum is in constant development, and our learning spaces should be as well. Our courses have changed over time, and the spaces they currently occupy need to be reconfigured to meet these new needs. Think about the refitting of the PoE or QEA rooms. As we make changes, we will depend on the input of faculty, students and staff to be sure that the newly configured spaces continue to serve our existing courses while meeting new needs.

The AC fabrication space (aka the Shop) modifications being undertaken were motivated by similar needs. We are reconfiguring our traditional machine shop to better align with the Learning Continuum – the curriculum, competition teams, community training and access. Much of the change philosophy has been informed by work in the Olin College Library and in the AC over the past few years.

Finally, as we all know, the AC has big, largely underutilized atrium spaces. We have been adapting these spaces. For example, the first floor hallway has been turned into a working area that is used on a regular basis by students. We now are moving forward to design space on the second floor of the AC specifically for collaboration. 

As we come to the end of 2017, where does this project stand?

It may seem that things have happened very quickly, but the underlying goals were identified a couple of years ago, driven by faculty observations of the shortfalls of our existing facilities. Moving from ideas to a project then depended on fundraising, which was challenging. While we were all grateful to the Olin trustees when they stepped up to fund the project themselves after the 2016-17 academic year ended, we knew we had to proceed quickly with a concentrated focus on construction planning. Steve Hannabury, who helped shepherd the building of the original Olin campus, took the lead as project manager with the help of a team of faculty and staff over the summer and early fall. On the faculty side, Daniela Faas, Aaron Hoover, Ben Linder and Lawrence Neeley have been deeply involved. I should also mention that Amon Millner and Mark Somerville were major contributors to the original brainstorming in 2016.

Right now, the basic structure of the space is designed. That step is critical to our hitting the summer 2018 construction goal. The challenge with a school environment is that you have to work around the academic year. The overall physical design has sufficient specificity for construction and infrastructure installation, but is basically empty space. It’s sort of like building a new house: you address basic goals in the design and layout, but how you actually use the space develops from getting to live in it and adapting it to evolving needs. I am sure we will learn a lot along the way. 

How are you reaching out to students to bring them into the process?

An important element for success in the programming part of the project planning is students and faculty asking questions, exchanging information and offering ideas. This will happen in a number of ways. A group of faculty has already held an informational session for the entire student community, and the outcomes from that meeting were fed back into the planning. There will be other opportunities like this in the spring. Steve Hannabury has started inviting specific students to join the relevant project planning meetings. Daniela and her staff have been engaging the Shop NINJAs in ongoing planning conversations. 

I have started to convene an ongoing series of smaller student-faculty gatherings. For example, I hosted a lunch meeting on December 1. We discussed topics ranging from the acoustics in the new space to accessibility issues to power in the new design studios and screen placement in the second-floor design studios. All of these topics are important and are being addressed in one way or another through faculty ideation, consultants, Olin’s IT Department and our hardworking Facilities team. I will continue to host a series of conversations, with the next one scheduled for December 14 and more in the spring.

We’ll work together to keep the community informed and engaged. One important mechanism is periodic newsletters like this one. I also encourage students to reach out me and to faculty members. This is an exciting project.  It is really the first significant physical modification of the Olin campus focused on the academic spaces. I am anxious to get to next fall and see what we have created.

Project Timeline