Education, Mass Timber, Sustainability

Founders Hall

University of Washington’s Founders Hall: A Model of Climate-Smart Design

With the climate crisis weighing heavy on the minds of college students, post-secondary institutions are increasingly looking for ways to lower the carbon emissions of their campuses while also supporting student and faculty well-being. And for good reason—a growing body of research suggests students may choose their alma mater with climate action in mind. 

“We’re seeing a real difference in students emphasizing values and not just compensation packages,” said Frank Hodge, Dean at University of Washington’s Michael G. Foster School of Business. “We want our newest building to signal what our values are when it comes to environmentally-conscious design.”

That’s the key driver behind the construction of Founders Hall—an 85,000 square-foot, five-story mix of classrooms and flexible gathering spaces built with regionally sourced cross-laminated timber (CLT). The building is designed to achieve a 76% reduction in energy consumption over the first 60 years of its life—making it one of the greenest buildings on the UW campus. It will also be the first building on the UW campus to be constructed of CLT, according to Hodge.

Founders Hall
Photo Credit: Tim Griffith

“We are focused on doing well by doing good—our decision to go with a mass timber structure was a pivotal choice—one that reflected our growing commitment to decarbonization, biophilic design, climate action, and honoring the native land on which this facility is built,” Hodge explained. 

Founders Hall is located on the traditional lands of the Coast Salish Peoples—land which touches the shared waters of all tribes and bands with the Suquamish, Tulip, and Muckleshoot Nations.

A Flexible Biophilic Hub Fosters Campus Engagement

Upon entering the light-filled atrium of Founders Hall, visitors are greeted by a dramatic mass timber feature staircase. The building houses circulation, pre-function spaces, and two-tiered classrooms that can be set for 65 to 135 students along with 28 team and interview rooms, four executive conference rooms, a diversity lounge, a student commons with an outdoor terrace, and a rooftop event space.

Complemented by a natural landscape of terraces, evergreen plantings, greenery, and rain gardens, the new Founders Hall greatly expands the Foster School of Business’ capacity while improving the connection to the heart of central campus and the historic northeast edge, dubbed Denny Yard. 

“We wanted visitors to walk into a space that feels like you’re just transitioning into a different type of wooded area, not stepping into a stark office-like building sealed off from nature—so mass timber played a key role in the building’s biophilic design, making Founders Hall feel like it’s a part of the natural environment and surrounding greenery,” said Hodge.

For Hodge, Founders Hall reflects the highly social character of business in the new century and aspires to be a sustainable building that will inspire future generations of business leaders.

Its central location, wooded setting, and circulatory role make the building a kind of mass timber jewel amidst the surrounding masonry buildings and landscape—a calming nature-inspired hub for the top-ranking Seattle-based business school. A generous use of natural lighting and the ability to draw natural ventilation into the facility further enhances occupants’ connection to nature.

Founders Hall
Photo Credit: Tim Griffith

Realizing the Full Benefits of Mass Timber

The facility’s design makes the most of its exposed mass timber structural design using a unique approach: combining two distinct building types.

“From a kind of a nerdy code perspective, there are actually two building types at play here that combine to create one larger building. There’s the mass timber building which encloses the concrete portion that contains the very large classrooms. This made it so that the entire building outside of that classroom block can be expressed as beautifully warm exposed mass timber, while still meeting fire and building code requirements,” explained Kjell Anderson director of sustainable design at LMN Architects, the design firm for the project.

A spacious vestibule facilitates entrance, and vertical circulation frames the two program areas: one portion for public-facing teams and one for more private offices and meetings. Active learning, collaboration and event spaces are positioned at the south edge of the site to engage the distinctive qualities of the surrounding landscape. 

The impressive double-height lobby and spacious floor plan envelops occupants with the visible warmth of wood by way of CLT post, beams, and decking. For the exterior, textured metal cladding frames the ample floor-to-ceiling glazing and gives passersby views into the exposed mass timber interior—expressed within the facade through distinctive reveal panels.

Founders Hall
Photo Credit: Tim Griffith

A Model of Low Carbon Sustainable Design

The project is a model for sustainable design at the UW and is embracing the university’s green building standards, which aim to reduce carbon emissions by over 90%. As an integrated element in both the interior and exterior expression, the building’s generous use of timber demonstrates the Seattle business community’s ongoing history with Northwest wood products and reduces the building’s embodied carbon by 58%. The project targets LEED New Construction Gold certification.

“This facility reflects the growing importance of decarbonization of buildings at the university and in the Pacific Northwest as a region. Along with the carbon-storing benefits of mass timber, Founders Hall will greatly reduce its carbon emissions as it will use clean electricity instead of being connected to the UW’s steam system, which relies on burning fossil fuels,” said Anderson. 

He adds that the building is a great example of how a mass timber design can concurrently meet social, business, and environmental goals. Along with its inspiring design, the facility represents long-term cost savings and an 83% reduction in operational carbon—a result of improved envelope performance, an efficient mechanical system, and the users’ commitment to leverage operable windows and ceiling fans in lieu of energy-intensive air conditioning.

For Hodge there was no doubt this building should showcase mass timber, and he credits the project’s success to genuine collaboration between an experienced architectural and consultant team. 

Founders Hall
Photo Credit: Tim Griffith

“LMN Architects and supporting trades have been true partners in designing Founders Hall. Our decision to go with a mass timber structure was a monumental shift in how we typically build on campus. The design team excelled at incorporating all of our ideas to celebrate the use of wood in the project and created a very open, inviting, beautiful, and highly functional design.”

Founders Hall will open to students and faculty later this year.

Project Details

  • Architect
    • LMN Architects
  • Client
    • Foster School of Business, University of Washington
  • Location
    • Seattle, WA
  • Building Size
    • 85,000 sq.ft.
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