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The physical layout of the building makes it almost impossible for people not to cross paths. The administrative offices are clustered in a suite in the A wing, and faculty offices are situated along the east face of the B and C wings. Research labs are shared by multiple groups and interspersed with teaching labs and classrooms. The long concourse in the one-story A wing is ideal for poster sessions. Lounges and informal seating areas are sprinkled throughout the building and equipped with whiteboards to stimulate discussions. Those in the upper floors of the B and C wings command vistas of the Bethlehem skyline and Lehigh’s 145-year-old Packer Campus.
“The planning committee,” says Pazzaglia, “wanted to create flexible spaces that promote synergy. We put a ton of effort into designing the labs, classrooms and open spaces so that one activity would flow into another.”
A critical role for glass
The junction of the B and C wings contains STEPS’ largest open space. Here the building opens into a five-story atrium whose glass curtain wall is etched with the image of a tree – roots, trunk and branches – by artist Larry Kirkland.
The judicious use of glass throughout STEPS highlights the activities of researchers and softens the boundaries between building and environment. Windows in the hallways offer views into most of the labs, while display cases lit by LED light showcase discoveries from past and present.
|A low-velocity, high-output fan atop the atrium (left) pushes warm air down to mix with cool air. The green roof on the A wing (right) absorbs CO2 and releases oxygen.|
The glass also connects visitors with the outside environment. A floor-to-ceiling window wall runs the length of the A wing’s north face and looks onto a courtyard of native plants and grass. Faculty offices and labs are aligned east to west and have good exposure to the sun. The windows in each room feature fritted glass, vertical fins and horizontal sunshades that mitigate glare while allowing the optimum amount of sunlight to penetrate.
“The transparency,” says Tony Corallo, associate vice president for facilities services and campus planning, “helps eliminate boundaries between the inside and outside of the building. It also encourages a sense of community among the building’s occupants.”
A good environmental neighbor
With a variety of features that minimize energy and water use while maximizing the benefit of natural light and heat, the STEPS building has been designed for silver certification by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System.
The new building also pays deference to its environment, natural and man-made. An 8,000-square-foot green roof atop the A wing retains excess storm water and releases it gradually to avoid overwhelming the city’s storm sewer system. The green roof absorbs the sun’s heat and CO2, and releases oxygen.
To reduce the environmental impact of STEPS, planners limited the A wing to a single story.
“Packard Lab across the street is four stories high,” notes Corallo. “placing two multistory buildings on opposite sides of the same street would have created a canyon effect that we wanted to avoid. Also, as the sun traverses the southern portion of the sky, the low height of the A wing will allow more light to reach the courtyard lawn.”
Along the south face of the A wing, the planners added a wall of gray quartzite to match the iron-rich quartzite patina of many of the buildings on Lehigh’s main Asa Packer Campus.
STEPS’ overall design, says Derick Brown, is at one with its mission.
“Lehigh has long been a leader in environmental science and engineering,” says Brown. “STEPS will help us reach the next level by creating a vibrant atmosphere for interdisciplinary research and education.
“There’s a high level of excitement and activity in the new building. We’re looking forward to moving from hallway conversations to collaborative research projects that take aim at some of the grand challenges facing society.”