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University of Minnesota Duluth, Pickle Barrel Scuppers

Ross Barney Architects

Project Status


Year Completed



35,300 sq. feet

Construction Cost

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Project Description

The University of Minnesota Duluth has instituted a new Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering. The new Swenson Civil Engineering Building provides a home for this new program, containing approximately 35,300 gross square feet to house classrooms, instructional and research laboratories, and office space. The new facility incorporates the existing circulation patterns that are part of the UMD campus.

In designing the Swenson Civil Engineering Building, the project team was charged with the task of incorporating the numerous programmatic and equipment requirements while enhancing the educational function of the building. The program called for large pieces of equipment, including a strong wall and floor system, two 15 ton gantry cranes, and a hydraulic flume. In addition to these items, the design developed to incorporate three large 36' x 24' operable doors to facilitate the movement of the cranes through the building. To maximize the efficiency of crane movement, the two laboratories and exterior loading dock were aligned in plan. This allowed the two cranes to move in a straight run on a single set of tracks between the two laboratories and directly to the loading dock.

The layout and openness of the main building spaces enhances the educational experience by providing visual connections to activities within and fostering interactions between students and faculty. The centrally located hydraulics laboratory serves as a main node of activity to which other spaces relate visually and functionally. Two arterial corridors, located on the east and west ends of this space connect the new building to the existing engineering buildings to the south. The central stair engages the north wall of the hydraulics laboratory, offering passing views to the activities within and providing a glass plank lookout landing for more focused observation. The east wall of the second floor transportation laboratory incorporates a picture window that provides views into the hydraulics laboratory below. Other laboratory spaces wrap this central volume. The student lounge located directly west of the hydraulics laboratory provides a gathering space for students and also offers views into the space. Rather than being centrally located, professor offices and graduate and post doctorial candidate workspaces are interspersed throughout the building to encourage interaction between the various groups.

Designed to display the building systems as a pedagogical tool, the building showcases the structural, and mechanical systems as well as stormwater management techniques. The building acts as a working classroom for the students using the space. Structurally, the building utilizes precast concrete walls, precast hollowcore floor slabs, and steel. The puzzle piece precast walls of the structural lab educate on the possibilities with precast by forming together in a unique pattern offering slot windows throughout the finished concrete box. The south wall of the space retains the exterior tilt-up braces and kickers that are used as temporary supports during construction in order to feature the process of this construction.

Having achieved a LEED Gold certification, the new building creates a healthy environment for the occupants through the use of integrated sustainable strategies. At the onset of the project, sustainable values and strategies were incorporated into the design process and the aesthetic vocabulary of the building. The building materials were selected to showcase the beauty of locally available raw, natural, unaltered materials that not only provide the basis for a sustainable building product, but also serve as a teaching tool for the students within the Civil Engineering Department. These materials include Corten steel, pre-cast and poured-in-place concrete, CMU, reclaimed local taconite rocks, and reclaimed wood. Through highlighting the properties of the materials in their natural state, very few ‘finish’ materials are needed or used on the project. Natural Corten steel on the exterior weathered to the desired patina within a matter of months, and the interior Corten steel retains its original appearance, furthering the education of the properties of this material. The use of raw and locally available products resulted in over 20% of the total building materials being regionally harvested and manufactured, and over 30% of the materials being recycled.

The oversized scuppers, made with wood slats from reclaimed pickle barrels, create an expressive silhouette against the building backdrop. In addition to providing striking visual imagery, the scuppers serve a functional role in preventing rainwater from overflowing the storm sewer system and causing environmental damage to the local stream beds. Water is directed from the rooftop, down the scuppers, and into a trio of above ground Corten steel cylinders, which distribute the water into an underground French drain. This reused greywater fills the flume in the hydraulics laboratory for student experiments, or gradually filters back into the hydrological system of the site. In addition to the French drain, a number of other stormwater retention strategies were employed, including; an intensive green roof over 30% of the total roof area, rain gardens with non-irrigated native plantings, and permeable pavers. Through the combination of greywater reuse and the implementation of low-flow restroom fixtures, a 56% reduction in water usage was achieved.

In designing the building HVAC systems, the unique requirements of each space were taken into account in order to provide the most efficient and cost-effective solution. The second floor houses offices and classrooms, where an underfloor air distribution system is employed. This system distributes air evenly through the spaces, while maintaining a high level of user controllability and providing flexibility for future space reconfigurations. The hydraulics and structures laboratories required ceiling heights of greater than 30 feet. In these areas, a thermal displacement ventilation system conditions the lower six feet of the spaces through stratification, enhancing the overall efficiency of the system. The introduction of conditioned air from below, freed the upper areas of these high-bay spaces for the incorporation of large clerestory windows and skylights. Daylight and views are not limited to the regularly occupied spaces, but are also highlighted features of both stairwells and the main circulation paths through the building. Through the integration of architectural and mechanical systems, an overall energy savings of 36% over a comparable base building was achieved using ASHRAE 90.1-2004.

Currently, a year-long process of gathering energy data is underway. This process will provide a concrete basis for comparing actual to modeled energy use, testing the effectiveness of the energy reduction strategies employed in the building.

From the moment students set foot into the building, they are exposed to a number of engineering systems and features that will form the core of the civil engineering curriculum. Teachers are provided with the opportunity to incorporate the building itself as a learning tool to enhance the educational experience. Thus, the building provides a welcoming home for the new civil engineering program, while intellectually engaging the students and faculty.
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