Early 20th-century Pittsburgh architect Henry Hornbostel has found kindred spirits in Atlanta-based Mack Scogin and Merrill Elam. Their design for the new Gates Center for Computer Science and Hillman Center for Future-Generation Technologies, on the campus of Carnegie Mellon University, is a 21st-century reinterpretation of the architectural principles that Hornbostel relied on when he drafted the campus master plan and designed its earliest structures starting in 1904.

Before selecting Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects for the project, the Carnegie Mellon building committee toured recently completed computer science buildings across the continent. “All the successful ones have had one faculty member take on the project,” School of Computer Science dean Randal E. Bryant says, so professor Guy E. Blelloch was selected to serve as liaison to the architects. “I just wanted a Japanese car,” Bryant recalls—“something nice, economical, that functioned well, and had cupholders in the right places.”

The selection of Scogin, who led the design, and Elam, who was integrally involved in the process at the firm and with the client, was easy. “We bonded instantly—Mack is an academic,” Bryant says. “Mack taught people to see and understand,” adds Ralph R. Horgan, associate vice provost for campus design and facility development.

The architects were presented with a site and program of considerable complexity. Hornbostel’s master plan—only partially realized—uses two intersecting green spaces (called the Mall and the Cut) to define the campus. The Gates and Hillman Centers (two volumes in one building connected by a multistory glass-enclosed bridge) are located in a valley behind the buildings that front the greens; its grade level is almost 80 feet lower. Placing the 208,000-square-foot structure, designed to be LEED-Gold compliant, on the hilly site was even more difficult due to its subgrade conditions. Sewers, data cabling, and rock confined the buildable area to a comparatively small footprint.

“It was Mack and Merrill’s inspiration to lift the building up from the valley,” Bryant says, creating a 10-level concrete frame structure with a floor plate that is larger on its upper floors. The lowest two levels are below grade and provide parking. The next five levels are public and link the upper campus to the lower campus. In the Gates Center, a central atrium houses a 650-foot-long spiral walkway called Helix 1; undergraduate classrooms, a café, the dean’s suite, offices, and an auditorium are grouped either around—or in—the ramp. This inclined plane’s gentle 1 in 20 slope offers a leisurely connection between entrances on multiple levels of the building. The top two floors are mainly devoted to faculty offices.

Beyond the public areas, the core programmed spaces are the faculty offices—nearly 120 individual rooms that the client insisted all have natural light and a view to the outside. “We didn’t think they could do it,” Blelloch says. “It’s like giving students a problem that you know can’t be solved.” Coupling the site’s inability to accommodate much grade-level building and the client’s desire for outward-facing exterior offices gave Scogin and Elam the opportunity to create the building’s distinctive forms. The upper levels of the Gates Center are larger than the lower ones, placing more square footage where offices can take advantage of better views. The fact that the building mass is divided into two primary volumes—with the Hillman Center to the north and the Gates Center to the south—allowed the architects to incorporate as many nips, tucks, and angles as possible to provide subtly different orientations for the individual faculty offices, and to allow for terraces and other outdoor space.

The exterior of the building is always the last thing Scogin and Elam address—and where they usually get the most creative. “We’ve never had budgets for elegant, fine materials,” Scogin says. They chose a zinc rainscreen for the Gates and Hillman Centers’ cladding—and the durable black shingles in a diamond pattern stand out among the yellow brick buildings of Hornbostel and his successors. The 310 windows are all treated differently—their consistent size is masked by different surrounds made of silver zinc, which contrasts with the black walls. “It’s an opportunity to individualize and de-institutionalize them,” Scogin says. “I think it’s something Hornbostel would have relished.”

Blelloch lived with the project from programming to architect selection to building completion—and the process of creating the Gates Center for Computer Science and Hillman Center for Future-Generation Technologies helps him link contemporary computer science to architecture.

“There’s a commonality to how you design an algorithm,” Blelloch says. “Computer science is logical, but there’s an aesthetic as well—it has to function, but it also has to look right and be elegant.” The Gates and Hillman Centers are all of these things—and a fitting continuation of Henry Hornbostel’s architectural legacy.

Project Credits

Project Gates Center for Computer Science and Hillman Center for Future-Generation Technologies, Pittsburgh
Client Carnegie Mellon University
Design Architect and Architect of Record Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects, Atlanta—Mack Scogin, AIA, Merrill Elam, AIA (principals); Lloyd Bray (senior project architect); Kimberly Shoemake-Medlock (senior project architect and manager); Alan Locke, Jared Serwer, Jason Hoeft, Clark Tate, Trey Lindsey, Jeff Collins (core project team); Ben Arenberg, Britney Bagby, Cayce Bean, Brian Bell, Misty Boykin, Daniel Cashen, Jacob Coburn, Amanda Crawley, Margaret Fletcher, Francesco Giacobello, Helen Han, Carrie Hunsicker, Patrick Jones, Janna Kauss, Jeff Kemp, Matthew Leach, Gary McGaha, Ted Paxton, Bo Roberts, Dennis Sintic, Barnum Tiller, John Trefry, Anja Turowski, B. Vithayathawornwong, Matt Weaver (project team)
Local Architect Edge studio
Associate Architect Gensler
Interior Designer Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects
Mechanical, Plumbing, Structural, Electrical, Acoustical Engineer Arup
Civil and Geotechnical Engineer Civil & Environmental Consultants
Geotechnical Engineer Construction Engineering Consultants
Construction Manager and General Contractor P. J. Dick
Landscape Architect Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates
Lighting Design Arup
Fire Protection, Life Safety, Communications, IT, LEED, A/V, Security Consultant Arup
Specifications Consultant Collective Wisdom
Digital Assets Manager CHBH
Cost Consultant Heery International
Pausch Bridge Lighting Design C & C Lighting
Parking Consultant Tim Haahs
Hardware Consultant Ingersoll Rand Security Technologies
Façade Assessment Wiss, Janny, Elstner Associates
Surveyor Gateway Engineers
Size 208,000 square feet and a 150-car parking garage
Cost $81 million (construction cost)

Materials and Sources

Acoustical System Baswaphon baswaphon.com
Adhesives, Coatings, and Sealants Dow Corning dowcorning.com; Hilti hilti.com; Tremco tremcosealants.com
Building Management Systems Automated Logic Pittsburgh automatedlogic.com
Carpet Mannington Commercial mannington.com/commercial
Ceilings Armstrong armstrong.com
Glass Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope oldcastlebe.com; Technical Glass Products fireglass.com; Viracon www.viracon.com
Gypsum Georgia-Pacific gp.com
HVAC Semco semcohvac.com
Insulation Owens Corning owenscorning.com; Dow building.dow.com
Lighting Control Systems Lighting Control & Design lightingcontrols.com
Lighting Delray Lighting delraylighting.com; Designplan Lighting designplan.com; Gammalux Systems gammalux.com; Gotham gothamlighting.com; Linear Lighting Corp. linearltg.com; Lithonia Lighting lithonia.com; Lighting Services lightingservicesinc.com; Mark Architectural Lighting marklighting.com; Peerless Lighting peerless-lighting.com; Bega bega-us.com; Sistemalux sistemalux.com
Masonry and Stone Williams & Sons Slate & Tile williamsslate.com
Metal VM Zinc vmzinc.com; Rheinzink rheinzink.com
Office Furniture Herman Miller hermanmiller.com
Paint Sherwin-Williams sherwin-williams.com
Plumbing and Water System Crane Plumbing craneplumbing.com; Zurn zurn.com
Public Spaces Furniture Fritz Hansen fritzhansen.com; Knoll knoll.com; Ligne Roset ligne-roset-usa.com; Moroso moroso.it; Nienkämper nienkamper.com; Vitra www.vitra.com; Wilkahn wilkhahn.com
Roofing Siplast siplast.com
Seating Irwin Seating Co. irwinseating.com
Structural System Steel superstructure
Upholstery Fabrics Alcantara alcantara.com; Willow Tex (Izit Junior) izitleather.com; Knoll Textiles www.knolltextiles.com; Maharam maharam.com; Kvadrat kvadrat.dk
Walls Georgia-Pacific gp.com; Carlisle Coatings & Waterproofing carlisle-ccw.com; U.S. Architectural Products (Cem-Aluminum) architecturalproducts.com
Wallcovering Maharam maharam.com; KnollTextiles www.knolltextiles.com
Windows, Curtainwalls, and Doors Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope oldcastlebe.com