Last month, the School of Human Ecology at University of Wisconsin, Madison opened the doors of Nancy Nicholas Hall, an innovative new facility designed by Sasaki. The school comprises diverse departments—consumer science, human development and family studies, design studies, and interdisciplinary studies—that can work together synergistically, but each require vastly different programs. Where else would you find a climate-controlled textile collection, a preschool lab, and a rooftop terrace?
Sasaki worked closely with user groups to determine priorities and opportunities for increased collaboration, which resulted in a design that integrates both discrete program needs and flexible open space. "The common areas were a focus of the design strategy," says Fiske Crowell, principal in charge of the project. "They are intended to facilitate student, faculty and staff interaction at places of convergence—public entries, lobbies, corridors, and lounges."
Grand opening ceremony on October 18
The work consisted of a 90,000-square-foot new addition as well as a 75,000-square-foot renovation to the existing historic building, which was originally constructed in 1913. Working in this historical zone required meticulousness and ingenuity. To address the challenge of working on a steeply sloping site, a herd of goats was employed to eliminate invasive species which had overtaken the wooded hillside to the north of the site, thus minimizing erosion and unnecessary soil disturbance.
"We put a lot of energy into ensuring that the design respects the historical context, but also makes a statement that reflects the exploratory research and thinking taking place inside," says Fiske.
The interior reflects the nature of the school as well. Rich and abundant textures suggest textiles; clean lines and technology-rich spaces speak to the sciences; bright colors and playful design elements allude to family-oriented learning.
The project is designed to achieve LEED Gold Certification. Standout sustainable solutions include a sedum green roof, occupancy sensors, ecological HVAC systems, and reclaimed and locally-manufactured materials.