Washington State University’s Everett-based University Center, the inaugural building for WSU’s new branch campus, brings together student services, a tiered lecture hall, faculty offices, media-rich classrooms and laboratories into one integrated facility. The multifunctional center is part of WSU’s move to expand access to higher education in science, technology, engineering and math throughout the North Puget Sound region.
Designed by SRG Partnership, the facility is undisputedly modern and recognizes the need for flexibility and adaptability in the design of today’s educational facilities. A four-story atrium, dubbed the Innovation Forum, creates an interior street-like feel and an immediate sense of openness that encourages informal interactions between students, faculty and visitors. Central to its design is a dramatic cantilevered wood staircase constructed of locally-sourced Douglas fir glued lamella stringers that span up to 44 feet.
“First-time visitors to the building are immediately struck by the stair’s bold statement and the sinuous curves of the laminations,” said Tim Richey, AIA, Senior Associate with SRG Partnership.
Created with regional materials by local craft people, the wood stair is both a nod to the history of the Pacific Northwest timber industry and a statement of what is now possible with engineered mass timber. The eye-catching floating stairway was built by a local Ferndale-based millwork company, GR Plume, and Hoffman Construction.
“The stair has been embraced as a central part of the institution’s identity and is utilized as the backdrop to ceremonial photographs. It’s come to symbolize the history of the timber industry in North Puget Sound, and the industry-leading research ongoing at WSU’s Materials & Engineering Center.”
By giving elevators less prominence and making the aesthetically inviting wood staircase a central focus, the design increases the likelihood that buildings occupants will take the stairs and linger within its common spaces.
“To demonstrate a commitment to the “in-between spaces”—those that are not classrooms or faculty offices, but the informal spaces where chance encounters, personal interactions, and connections occur— we used a combination of smooth wood veneer panels, textured wood wall panels, and engineered structural timber to differentiate those spaces,” said Richey.
The aesthetic appeal of the glulam stair case not only promotes a healthy lifestyle and more face-to-face interactions among students and faculty, but also reduces energy consumption and makes an important cultural statement.
With offices in Portland and Seattle, SRG understands the unique role wood can play in the region’s economy and sustainable design. “SRG is at the forefront of design thinking and research regarding mass timber in architecture,” said Richey. “
“We sponsored a travelling research fellowship, sending four architects with a particular interest in wood–myself included—to Austria, Switzerland, and England to learn more about the European approach to mass timber. We returned from the fellowship with the inspiration and determination to explore the potential for new engineered wood products.”
More recently SRG pioneered the innovative use of cross-laminated timber (CLT) in a parking garage in Springfield, Oregon. The project highlights the beauty, durability, and untapped potential of cross laminated timber, while setting new design standards for future use of CLT.
Read more about SRG’s timber-related projects.