The 250,000 square-foot Welch Hall Renovation for the University of Texas at Austin will modernize aging science facilities through a complete interior renovation that will also provide generous social spaces to nurture the exchange of ideas and the sharing of knowledge. It builds on the previous Master Space Plan work implementing a long-term strategic vision for the College of Natural Sciences. Starting with a monolithic introverted form that is disconnected from its surrounding landscape, unfortunately somewhat common to buildings of the late-70’s, a series of operative incisions cut away the limestone cladding on the south and east facades to open the space with new social activity onto a vibrant oak-lined pedestrian corridor.
With curiosity and an enthusiasm to broaden my experience, I joined Payette in early January. Coming from a studio office in central Canada that focused on cultural and residential work, I have discovered in these first months at Payette that the scope, scale, complexity and process has contrasted my previous experience yet at the same time mirrored it. While the process and methodology is fairly consistent, the content and issues are multiplied with the specificity and precision of working in the Big Science environment.
Jumping into the project late in the process and completing a “95% Design Development package” for review and costing, threw me into a series of conversations regarding lab operations and processes I knew little about. Discussing the intricacies of lab benches, the researchers’ daily workflows and operational maintenance procedures, I learned all host significant constraints and requirements that need to be interwoven to optimize both the functionality and health of the occupants in the design. Surrounded by a team with years of experience, I was quickly able to absorb the basics through observation while being supplemented via detailed answers to my numerous questions. This generosity of experience and knowledge pervades the office with informal lunch discussions with principals, office pin-ups, project updates, research projects and the ability to hear diverse conversations throughout the open layout.
The successful practice of architecture largely relies on directing collaborative teams, unifying discourse and synthesizing diverse issues into context-driven solutions. My experience over the past few months shares processes and team dynamics of my experience in past office environments; however the problems, complexity and size of teams has increased. While previously working with a small set of consultants around a table and a room full of stakeholders, I am now remotely connected to numerous consultants spread across multiple states and reviewing agendas of stakeholder meetings spread over two or three days. The means are the same yet the methods have changed, reflecting the ever-increasing complexity of science and technology in our globally connected landscape.
Moving forward, the Welch Hall Renovation design will continue to undergo further refinement and detailing as more targeted discussions of individual research requirements and facility staff processes are investigated. With demolition set to begin in June, followed by issuance of construction drawings in the fall, the project will advance and re-position Welch Hall as a vital research facility within the College of Natural Sciences while connecting it to the greater University campus as an active social hub.