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Newest Gates Center designs released

Obscured by mounds of soil and a steep slope, behind the Purnell Center for the Arts lies a valley with a nearly 75-foot drop.

This difficult terrain will be the birthplace of the Gates Center for Computer Science three years from now. It will be the convergence point of the West Campus Quad, bounded by Doherty Hall, Newell-Simon Hall, Smith Hall, and the Collaborative Innovation Center (CIC). The most recent updates on the Gates Center blog present the long-awaited renderings of the exterior skin and interior designs, as well as plans for additional green space.

The new Gates Center, designed by architect firm Mack Scogin Merrill Elam, will have a façade of dark zinc with contrasting light zinc outlining the glass windows. A half-scale sample of a window, framed within the light and dark zinc edges, resembles a large, stand-alone antique mirror.

“The play of the light zinc against the dark exterior really punches out the windows,” said Ralph Horgan, vice-provost for Campus Design and Facility Development. “Roughly 50 percent of the exterior will be covered with windows, and the inherent reflectivity of zinc will play with light at different times of the day.”

The black-and-white renderings of the interior show how the building utilizes natural daylight. With spiraling ramps as its core navigation system, the interior is an open social environment with large, abstractly curving tabletops.

“The interior is a concentrated space that improves collaboration and promotes interaction,” said Guy Blelloch, professor and associate dean for planning in the School of Computer Science (SCS). He also pointed out the spacious hallways complete with floor-to-ceiling windows to help students orient themselves in the building.

Now a definitive departure from the original campus architect Henry Hornbostel’s “yellow brick” signature style, the modern design will contrast heavily with its buff-brick neighbors and present a new experience to a campus used to seeing Baker and Doherty Halls.

“The façade of the structure facing Forbes Avenue will be Carnegie Mellon’s most standard presentation to the community,” Horgan said. “It will read as an office building and a member of the enclosed Carnegie Mellon campus.”
According to Horgan, the landscape architect has exceeded the planning committee’s expectations. Designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, the site makes the building easily accessible to the community while still maintaining its privacy exclusive to academic institutions.

The proposed landscape will expand the planned green space from 52,209 square feet to 120,100 square feet. The new landscape will include a winter garden, several groves of trees, green roofs, recreational patios, and a volleyball court near Newell-Simon Hall.

The unique topography of the West Quad will allow a multi-level stormwater management system, and its most innovative feature will be the “Rain Garden.” Filled with wetland plants that thrive in moisture, the garden will filter out soils and gravel before stormwater enters the drain.

In addition to the extensive green space, Horgan has confidence that the Gates building will achieve a U.S. Green Building LEED gold rating.

To pave the way for the building, Campus Design and Facility Development (CDFD) demolished four campus structures within the past five months: the Old Student Center, the Campus Printing and Publications Building, the Planetary Robotics Building, and the Row Garages.

Surrounded by wire fences for now, the prospective structural space encompasses roughly 210,000 square feet. From now through October, CDFD is working to relocate and implement new utility lines. The subsequent mass excavation and reinforcement of existing facilities will continue throughout November. Concrete foundation and structural work is set to begin in December.

The steel erection sequence is expected to take place at the beginning of summer 2007. By the end of construction, the building will be almost level with the Purnell Center.

Since its early planning stages, the Gates Center’s design has created much discussion among the computer science and architecture faculty. Volker Hartkopf, professor of architecture and director of the Center for Building Performance and Diagnostics at Carnegie Mellon, has been forthright in his criticism of the building’s design.

In his April FOCUS article, Hartkopf encouraged the SCS review board to seriously consider utilizing local industries, improving sustainability and energy efficiency with possible on-site energy creation, and preserving the pedestrian quality of the surrounding areas.

According to University engineer Marty Altschul, who is closely involved in the Gates planning process, Hartkopf’s greener, more energy-efficient designs are internationally recognized but not yet feasible given the budget constraints.

“In terms of energy efficiency, the Gates Center can be regarded as a top-notch building — in the United States — with a LEED gold rating,” Altschul said. He believes the SCS review committee has achieved its primary vision of “quality space for every occupant.”

“We are taking incremental steps towards a higher standard — incremental steps, which means we are not there yet,” said Barbara Kviz, the Green Practices Committee co-chair.

In regards to the 150,000 square feet of prospective green space, both Altschul and Kviz stressed that the plan is not yet finalized and noted that the budget constraint may not allow the green roof atop the structure facing Forbes Avenue.
The hurdle encountered here between energy performance and financial barriers is a growing phenomenon in the United States. Whereas the European Union has implemented low-energy building laws and regulations, the U.S. government is lagging behind with merely a voluntary LEED certification.

Bearing the Gates name and budgeted at $88.6 million, the Gates Center will be the most expensive structure yet on the Carnegie Mellon campus.

The seven-story Gates Center will be horizontally sliced into three jutting layers above ground and supported by massive cantilevers and additional columns. Its sibling, the four-story building “Donor X,” will be a more conservative trapezoidal structure and a fundraising opportunity up for grabs.