Worcester Polytechnic

Building on Tradition

The Transformation of a Building

A project as large and as complex as the $8.5 million renovation of Higgins Laboratories must be planned to the last detail before the first shovel of earth is turned. Planning for the Higgins restoration and expansion was carried out by a large group of interested parties, including the faculty of the Mechanical Engineering Department, the WPI Plant Services office, the Physical Facilities Committee of the Board of Trustees, and the architects and engineers of Cutler Associates, the Worcester firm that would complete the design, engineering and construction.

Over the course of more than a year, the current and future plans and dreams of the department and its faculty (with their concomitant space requirements), the physical constraints of the building and building site, and the financial resources available to complete the project were carefully weighed, as plans were drafted and redrafted. In the spring of 1994, construction equipment arrived to begin excavating for the new addition, which would be carefully fitted into the west side of the H-shaped building. In this space would rise a four-story, 17,000-square-foot structure designed to symbolically bridge the past and future of mechanical engineering at WPI by combining the stately brick facade of the original building with dramatic three-story windows and a modern, glass-enclosed entryway. The addition would give Higgins a new entrance on the Quadrangle and provide considerable interior space for laboratories. Its subbasement would house all of the mechanical, electrical and plumbing support systems for the renovated building, freeing up space that had once contained transformers and other electrical and mechanical equipment. The completion of the addition was the critical first step in the renovation of Higgins Laboratories, for unlike a typical refurbishment project, this one would proceed while the building remained in full operation. The next step was to move some of the occupants of Higgins into the addition and to renovate the space thus emptied. As space in Higgins was refurbished, other occupants were moved in to fill it, opening up still more space for renovation. The work continued in this manner, culminating with the refurbishment of several common spaces, including the first-floor lecture hall and the Heald Discovery Classroom on the second floor.

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