Borrowing a page from a playbook more familiar to real estate turnaround experts, a number of research-based institutions are talking today about how they are “repositioning” their engineering facilities. The approach— sometimes part of an overhaul extending into various departments—is seen as a way to remake existing, purpose- built centers to better serve today’s research activities and student-centered academics. Many of the university leaders see it as a cyclical need, where every so often the engineering building evolves and re- emerges as a refreshed, improved platform for the disciplines.
The University of Maryland’s Jeong H. Kim Engineering Building serves as a successful example of repositioning where the building was transformed from a collection of classrooms to a showcase center, replete with cutting-edge bioengineering labs, MEMS cleanrooms, intelligent transportation simulation areas and spaces for microelectronics instruction. Another example is the Martin Kelly Engineering Building at Oregon State Univ., which opened up its interior with a bright, sunny atrium featuring an e-café, collaborative learning research suites and open labs to burnish its reputation as a hub of scientific socialization.
In both cases, the bottom line of the aggressive repositioning included better student and faculty experience, more effective grant applications and awards, innovative research and a bit of campus buzz. These examples—as well as projects like the Brown Hall addition at the Colorado School of Mines—show that engineering buildings are hardly a static concept, and repositioning is far more than a real estate notion. In fact, it’s essential to advancing the institutional mission and program value.