By: Toni Loiacano, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP
BD+C and Leslie Sims, AIA, LEED AP BD+C,
EYP Architecture & Engineering
Engineering education is experiencing a reinvention. More than ever before, colleges and universities are employing
experiential learning paradigms to enhance
and solidify learning, with curriculums
being reinvented and tailored to maximize
relevancy to industrial real-world needs.
This reinvention is widespread and fueled
by industry’s expectation of a well-prepared
workforce that’s able to solve complex
and frequently ill-defined problems. The
associated curriculum provides and prepares
a hands-on, less traditionally structured
experience that empowers each student to
be self-directed, competent and confident.
Additionally, much like in the real world,
this curriculum relies on team building skills
and reiterates the need for evolving ideas in
order to create great solutions.
This type of experiential learning involves
a wide range of diverse spatial needs and
requirements—from classrooms and team
areas to prototyping and manufacturing
spaces. The seamless flow is indicative of the
design process. Not only is this a teaching
paradigm, but the research environments
also perform in a similar manner and gain
value by close proximity and sharing of
The Engineering Science Dept. at Trinity
Univ., San Antonio, Texas, recently completed a phased renovation expanding the
sciences labs and providing new engineering science labs. Constructed in 1965, the
previous facility, the Moody Engineering
Building, consisted of teaching and research
labs that constrained the department’s
curriculum and research potential. The new
replacement facility now allows a re-imagin-ing of the teaching and research labs.
A crucial step in the renovation process
was determining the department’s strengths
and goals. A strong student sense of community and an emphasis on the design studio
experience for every student every semester
were two primary focus areas as the building
was programmed and designed. In addition,
the previous building’s inflexible research
and teaching spaces were limiting not only
to the naturally occuring changes over
the building’s life but, also, to limiting the
space’s overall efficiency.
MULTIDISCIPLINARY TEACHING LABS
To increase utilization and create benefi-
cial overlap in the engineering disciplines,
the renovation project moved away from
engineering-specific labs, in favor of mul-
tidisciplinary labs. This approach provided
the following benefits:
• Increased emphasis on the connections
between engineering disciplines.
• Higher utilization of the resources by
reducing the number of teaching labs.
• Improved lab/lecture integration with
larger square footage per lab.
• Provision of greater flexibility in lab
layouts due to a larger overall footprint.
• Opened large areas of the lab for equipment that will change and evolve over time.
• Tightening of the overall department
footprint to enhance the student community.
The design team partnered with faculty
to create four flexible multidisciplinary labs.
Three were large labs at 1,500 sf with 300-sf
storage areas; and one was a smaller lab of
750 sf with a 150-sf storage area.
The following features characterize the
• Heavy electrical services at the perimeter.
• Floor labs with center overhead service carriers.
• Large teaching walls.
• Extensive visibility onto main circu-
• Lean inclusion of fixed casework and an
emphasis on moveable tables and electronics benches.
• Daylight is provided in the teaching
• One lab incorporates a small section
of wet chemistry benches, including a fume
• One lab incorporates a 30-ft wall of
Unistrut for large piping demonstrations.
The larger footprint teaching labs are
used for coursework and junior-year design
projects. During their junior year, students
rotate through the labs and explore four engineering disciplines—electrical engineering,
mechanical engineering, structural engineering and chemical engineering. Along
with a group, these students then select their
preferred area of focus for their second-se-mester project. The students then have access
to the labs after hours and when class isn’t in
session. The projects students pursue range
enormously in scale year-to-year—from
small robots to large heat exchangers.
The smallest footprint teaching lab is a
cross-department electronics lab used by
engineering science and physics. This small
lab—one of the most popular, especially
after hours—is set up with a central seminar
table and flexible electronics benches at the
Bioswale at the front entry of the Center for the Sciences and Innovation. The Innovation Studio glass garage
doors open out onto this teaching landscape. Images: ©Tim Griffith
continued on page 26