NWC’s Yellowstone Academic Building proves ‘budget’ and ‘value’ need not equal ‘uninspired’

CTA_project_NorthwestCollege_YellowstoneAcademicBuilding_ConceptModelsCTA’s work on the Yellowstone Academic Building on the campus of Northwest College, in Powell, WY, included interfacing with two separate clients: the college and the State of Wyoming Construction Management Department. We acknowledged going into the design process that fiscal responsibility was a top priority. Knowing that, we asked ourselves, “How do we enhance education and create character with budget-driven decisions and no ornamentation?”

FUTURE FLEXIBILITY
Our process started with programmatic and site research. The program was an interesting blend of classroom spaces for criminal justice, nursing, and humanities, while also hosting flexible conference room space aimed at community-based events. Anticipating future changes in programming, teaching styles, and technology, we pushed the faculty to edit their processes and aim for a balance between specific-use and generic space that could be easily modified.

Further pushing the generic agenda, the campus hadn’t seen a new building in 30 years and has a very institutionalized feel. Both clients felt the simplicity and style of the campus should be inferred in the new building — and yet it still needed character. We placed the new building at the northwest corner of the academic core to serve as a bridge between student residents, academics, and the city of Powell. This location provided and directed many of the design solutions.

With efficiency, value, and a personalized sense of place as goals, we stuck to the big ideas of academic function, daylight, and detail. The academic wing became a large, two-story, adapted double-loaded corridor. Inside, classrooms are mixed between faculty office pods, with student work spaces located nearby to encourage student-faculty interaction. The conference hall is flexible and designed to subdivide into three standard-sized classrooms when needed.

Stefani Hicswa, PhD | President, Northwest College:

The interactive classrooms have become so popular we have started planning to remodel other classrooms on campus accordingly. We just installed five projectors in a classroom in the Moyer Building to respond to the demand for interactivity and no front and no back of the room as a result of faculty utilization of the classrooms in the Yellowstone Building.

The faculty love, love, love their offices. They are warm and inviting. The furniture is user-friendly to work and meet with students. The lighting is very conducive to their work. Happy faculty make for a happy college president!

CTA_project_NorthwestCollege_YellowstoneAcademicBuilding_SiteMapCOMMUNITY ORIENTATION
To give the hall a community presence, we aimed it toward the town’s primary approach to campus from the southwest. Where the conference hall and academic wing intersect, we removed building and turned the intersection into a semi-enclosed outdoor plaza. This plaza provides overflow for events, yet still lightly connects the conference hall and the academic wing in a manner that neither disrupt each other, despite their different schedules and scales of operation. Most importantly, the plaza provides daylight to public spaces deep inside the center of the building, and respite from sun and strong prevailing winds.

DESIGNING FOR NECESSITY
Everything had to be necessary to remain in the budget. The academic wing featured masonry brick with three colors of campus red brick and detailed into a subtle patchwork quilt of varying blends and bonding patterns. The conference hall uses green zinc cladding similar in color to material details found elsewhere on campus, and tall vertical fins to control low-angle east and west light. At the plaza, where academics and the conference hall intersect, dark gray brick and window mullions were used to contrast the pavers, Ipe bench seats, and landscaping.

INTERDISCIPLINARY LEARNING
Creative and interactive design sessions resulted in a revolutionary combined class where EMTs and Nursing students will be trained how to successfully assist injured people who are in the midst of fragile crime scenes (without disturbing evidence) while Criminal Justice students can simultaneously learn first responder skills. This solution epitomizes both the benefits of 21st century learning, interdisciplinary study, and collaboration, but also illustrates how design excellence can improve quality of life and learning.

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