WPI’s New Academic and Student Services Building To Be Known as Unity Hall
Rising majestically up the side of Boynton Hill, the newest addition to the WPI campus—a 100,000-square-foot academic and student academic services building—will be known as Unity Hall. The name was developed through a process that included input from students, faculty, staff, and alumni, and it reflects, in part, a growing focus throughout the university on social justice and inclusion. It also suggests the many ways that the stunning structure—designed by global architecture, design, and planning firm Gensler—builds connections that will benefit the university community and the world.
The WPI campus community will have a chance to take socially distanced, self-guided tours of the new building during an open house from 1 to 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 11. A special viewing of Unity Hall will be held for alumni during Alumni Weekend in May.
Within its five floors, the building brings together several computationally intensive academic and research disciplines that are hallmarks of what has become known as the fourth industrial revolution. It pulls together several student services, previously spread across the campus, creating the Student Academic Services Center: a “one-stop-shopping” nexus for students seeking everything from academic advising to career planning.
The building also provides a convenient and accessible link between the main campus, which sits atop Boynton Hill, and the lower campus, particularly the student residences on the eastern part of the campus and the academic and research programs at Gateway Park. In addition, Unity Hall, with its project-based academic programs and cutting-edge research activities aimed at addressing complex global issues and preparing students for careers that may not yet exist, will help the university forge strong connections with partners in industry, academia, and government—in the United States and around the world.
“Unity Hall, one of the most significant buildings on the growing WPI campus, represents a historic commitment by this university to the future of purpose-driven STEM education and research and to meeting the needs of our students and the greater WPI community,” says WPI President Laurie Leshin.
“This magnificent building is also a reflection of the growing importance of collaboration in this increasingly interconnected and interdependent world, where the nature of work and the needs of the workforce are changing in profound and unpredictable ways. To prepare students to excel in a future where the majority of occupations have yet to be invented and to help our researchers tackle problems across a spectrum of emerging disciplines, we need to be able to bring together expertise, ideas, and innovation in new and groundbreaking combinations. That is the central idea embodied in Unity Hall.”
"Unity Hall, one of the most significant buildings on the growing WPI campus, represents a historic commitment by this university to the future of purpose-driven STEM education and research and to meeting the needs of our students and the greater WPI community." -Laurie Leshin
The new building has received significant philanthropic support from alumni, trustees, and friends, including foundations and trusts. In total, WPI has received more than $19 million from 419 donors to the new building, all in support of Beyond These Towers: The Campaign for WPI, the university’s $500 million campaign. These commitments include a $5 million pledge from the Alden Trust in the form of the Alden Trust Challenge. The trust will fulfill the pledge when WPI raises $20 million from alumni and trustees; just over $13 million has been raised for the challenge to date. Commitments to the new building also include those from alumni to honor the legacy of Dean van Alstyne in the new integrated Student Academic Services Center.
Shaping the Fourth Industrial Revolution
WPI was born amid the first industrial revolution, which saw the mechanization of industry and transportation, and its faculty, students, and alumni made pivotal contributions to the second (electric) and third (computer) industrial revolutions. Building on the wired and wireless connections that link billions of smart devices, the fourth industrial revolution is shaping advances in a number of interdisciplinary offshoots of cutting-edge computational science and fostering innovative and far-reaching solutions to problems in such areas as health care, energy, transportation, and the built environment.
In Unity Hall, the fourth industrial revolution will be represented by laboratories, collaboration spaces, and faculty offices for six cross-disciplinary programs: Architectural Engineering, Bioinformatics and Computational Biology, Data Science, Interactive Media and Game Development, Learning Sciences and Technologies, and Robotics Engineering. These disciplines marry advances in computation, science, and engineering to tackle pressing global issues through interdisciplinary research and WPI’s distinctive project-based approach to education.
“Unity Hall embodies a number of ideas that are at the heart of WPI’s approach to education and research,” says Winston “Wole” Soboyejo, senior vice president and provost. “First, it epitomizes the practical application of knowledge for the greater good that underpins our groundbreaking academic program and that also infuses our purpose-driven research and project work. Second, it embodies the spirit of collaboration and interdisciplinary work that can be found throughout our campus. In this impressive and beautiful new facility, these hallmarks of the WPI experience will come together as students, faculty, and staff help bring to life the ideas, the innovations, and the technology that will transform and improve our world.”
Robotics Engineering, a field that merges computer science, electrical engineering, and mechanical engineering, is moving some of its research facilities from 85 Prescott Street to Unity Hall. (It will retain its teaching labs in Atwater Kent Laboratories and the Innovation Studio.) The department’s faculty and student researchers will now work in two spacious labs and a dedicated project space on the new building’s first and second levels.
Research in Bioinformatics and Computational Biology, Data Science, and Learning Sciences and Technologies will move from the Fuller Laboratories and Salisbury Laboratories buildings to new lab spaces on the third level. Architectural Engineering and Interactive Media and Game Development will both gain new studio and lab space on the second level.
"In this impressive and beautiful new facility, these hallmarks of the WPI experience will come together as students, faculty, and staff help bring to life the ideas, the innovations, and the technology that will transform and improve our world." -Winston “Wole” Soboyejo
The building will also house a new Semiconductor Security Research Center recently funded with a $1 million grant from the Massachusetts Collaborative Research and Development Matching Grant program. The new center, which includes the first high-sensitivity, high-resolution semiconductor failure analysis system in the Northeast, will focus on the security of semiconductors and hardware critical to key innovation industries.
In addition to dedicated labs, offices, and meeting spaces, Unity Hall will house several shared spaces, including a lab, lounges, conference rooms and collaboration areas, and a workshop on the first level that includes a 3D-printing facility and paint room. Five new classrooms on the fourth and fifth levels, all with flexible seating designed to facilitate active learning and in-class project work, will significantly expand the campus’s teaching facilities.
Serving the Needs of Students
Visitors entering Unity Hall on the fifth (topmost) level will encounter the new Student Academic Services Center, where students will find, all in one place, the Office of Accessibility Services, the Office of Academic Advising, the Career Development Center, and the Office of the Registrar—previously located in two buildings in different parts of the campus. The new center is designed to make it easier for students to take advantage of a host of academic services and resources that can help them navigate their journey through WPI and beyond, according to Philip Clay, senior vice president for student affairs.
“This new center is designed to enhance the success of our students and provide them with convenient access to these critical resources,” Clay says. “Here, in one place, they can interact with professionals dedicated to helping them make the most of their educational program and the opportunities available to them at WPI, who can guide them to the information and assistance they need to get the most out of their time on campus, and who can help them set their sights on the many ways they can put their education to use to make the world a better place in their careers after they graduate.”
"Here, in one place, they can interact with professionals dedicated to helping them make the most of their educational program and the opportunities available to them at WPI." -Philip Clay
In addition to offices, reception areas, and meeting and “huddle” spaces, the new center includes a flexible exam proctoring room, part of the Accessibility Services Office’s mission to offer accommodations for students who might need an alternative setting or other testing-based accommodations and to make sure each student has the opportunity to achieve to the fullest potential.
A Commitment to Sustainability
Built by Consigli Construction Co. of Milford, Mass., with project management services by KVA Boston, Unity Hall is the latest WPI building designed to fulfil the university’s long-standing commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship. In fact, the building is on track to receive LEED Gold status, according to Eric Beattie, vice president for campus planning and facilities. (Developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, LEED certification provides a framework for green building design, construction, operations, and performance.)
“Unity Hall incorporates state-of-the-art energy efficient and water-conservation systems, as well as design features to take full advantage of natural light,” Beattie says. “The building’s ventilation system provides all fresh air to spaces with no recirculation, and air tests in the building passed rigorous LEED requirements for indoor air quality. Materials were carefully selected to include recycled content and the construction methods followed were designed to reduce waste wherever possible. In addition, spaces in the building were designed flexibly and efficiently to maximize their usage and to contain the overall size of the building, as much as possible.”
Beattie says the location of Unity Hall required the removal of several mature oak trees. Timber harvested from these trees was milled and used in several creative feature walls, in furniture, and in recognition signage in the building. The building’s roof was designed to accommodate solar photovoltaic panels, which generate renewable energy. Their installation will be completed under a separate energy contract.
In keeping with the building’s social justice theme, and as a commitment to the sustainability of the local economy and community, Beattie adds “goals were set and exceeded to employ a significant number of women and other minorities in the project’s construction workforce.”