After a historic renovation, the Hinman Research Building at Georgia Tech transforms from an engineering research laboratory into an oasis for architectural education.
In 1938, P.M. Heffernan, a recent arrival to the faculty of the College of Architecture at the Georgia Institute of Technology and its future director, finalized designs for the college’s first freestanding research facility: the Hinman Research Building.
Built to house the newly formed Engineering Experiment Station, Hinman was a living-learning laboratory for engineering students and faculty to conduct research and fabrication experiments that spanned from packaging to radar. An expansive interior space marked with mid-century modern aesthetics proved an invaluable addition to the campus and academic curricula.
By 2001, with the building’s use for industrial fabrication no longer appropriate to its now central location on the campus, the university decided to repurpose Hinman as the locus of the College of Architecture’s graduate and research programs. It took a decade to do so, in the course of which the Building Team, led by local design firm Lord, Aeck & Sargent, preserved the 34,500-sf building’s significant historic features, while adapting it to serve a new function.
More than 70 years later, the revitalized Hinman Building has reshaped its legacy of creative technical education and research and regained its standing as a centerpiece of campus life and culture.
“Even before the rehabilitation, it was my favorite building on campus,” architecture graduate student Nick Kahler said. “The success of the rehabilitation has increased my awareness of the importance of historic preservation and the contingencies involved in respecting the past as well as engaging the future.”
PROJECT SUMMARY: The Hinman Research Building at Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Ga.
Submitting firm: Lord, Aeck & Sargent in collaboration with Office dA
Owner/developer: University System of Georgia and the Georgia Institute of Technology
Structural engineer: Uzun & Case Engineers
Mechanical/electrical engineer: Eaton/EMC Engineers Inc.
General contractor/construction manager: HC Beck Ltd.
Size: 34,500 sf
Construction cost: $9.1 million
Construction period: February 2010 to January 2011
Delivery method: CM at risk
AN UPSIDE-DOWN STRATEGY
In 2008, collaborating architecture firms Lord, Aeck & Sargent and Boston-based Office dA were hired to produce a design for the building, a remnant of mid-20th-century industrial boldness. Steel and concrete mold most of the structure, while a large crane used for heavy-duty engineering experiments spans across the 50-foot-tall barrel-vaulted ceiling.
“Deciding to preserve the building was a no-brainer,” said Howard Wertheimer, the university’s Capital Planning and Space Management Director. “It is one of the most sustainable things we can do, and it is important to celebrate and preserve our cultural heritage.”
Upon surveying the space, the Building Team noted that historically significant elements of the building were hung in the domineering high bay space. Working with a budget of just over $9 million, the team decided to use these features to their advantage. Constructing outriggers from which thin rods hang and cradle a tapered floor structure, the structural engineer, Uzun & Case, and the Atlanta office of contractor HC Beck Ltd. turned the crane into a hanging mezzanine.
“The original office areas were small and lacked vitality, and daylight was very limited,” Wertheimer said, noting the original building was retrofitted to meet LEED Gold-standard sustainability. “The renovation provides a technically rich environment flooded with natural light and very conducive to active learning, research, collaboration, and innovation.”
Adding 3,000 sf of usable space, the hanging mezzanine, dubbed “The Hammock” by students, houses graduate-level architecture studios, computer labs, interdisciplinary research labs, high-fidelity simulation and planning labs, offices, galleries, and space for large-scale events.
According to grad student Kahler, who has a prized desk location on the mezzanine, the Building Team “created the sense of a stage-in-the-round to further the concept of the space as a theater for the generation of an infinite number of architectural designs. The entire high-bay area maximizes the space for individuals to spread out their work and display their drawings in a close-knit environment.”
CREATING AN ACTIVE LEARNING ENVIRONMENT
“There are not many spaces that serve so clearly as didactic tools,” College of Architecture Dean Alan Balfour said of the Hinman building. “We want students to take away the importance of 20th-century history, including how structural loads are transferred poetically from the roof to the ground, and how mechanical and electrical systems can be intelligently woven into an existing shell.”
The top-down design of the interior left the floor plane clean and unobstructed, allowing for the Building Team to expose most of the existing structure. A bare concrete floor and visible engineering and lighting systems are meant to engage students in their three-dimensional learning environment.
“The willful approach to exposing the layers of history and structure throughout the building present many opportunities for faculty and students to discuss strategies of preservation and restoration,” Balfour said.
New additions, including a spiral staircase enclosed in mesh and a 40-foot-wide guillotine door, serve to ignite the imagination of student architects, while reminding them of the importance of maintaining historical integrity.
“The spiral staircase is a cocoon that celebrates the vast, beautiful structure,” Wertheimer said, noting the staircase gives the illusion of being suspended from the ceiling. “It is very tectonic in design, and people want to know how to build it.”
The Hinman Research Building at Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Ga.
Raised Concrete Floor Tile: Tecrete by Haworth
Mesh: X-tend by Carlstahl and Steel Fab
Concrete repair: J.E. Tomes
Plywood milling and routing: Beck
Asphalt repair: Stewart Brothers
Steel reinforcement: Gerdau Ameristeel
Tobbing slab: Precision Concrete
Steel: Steel Fab
Solid surfacing: Intown Design
Vertical door: Overhard Door
Skylights: Sunbelt Glass
Metal window frames: Southern Machine Specialists
Carpet tile: Haphazard, Tandus
Toilet Partitions: Floor mounted overhead brace, Scranton Products Inc.
Restroom tile: Kaystone Shapes, Daltile
Sinks: Corian, DuPont
Cove Base: Johnsonite
Spray-on insulation: International Cellulose Corp.
Wall paint: Aura Waterborne Interior Paint, Benjamin Moore Paints
Wall/ceiling paint: Harmony –B9-900 series, Sherwin-Williams
Crane, steel columns paint: Metallic paint collection, Modern Masters
Trusses: Duraclad DTM Acryliic Coating, Duron
Window frames: Carbothane/Carboguard, Carboline
Retractable pendant lights hung from the high-bay ceiling are adaptable for film screenings, large-scale model buildings, and other activities. Never underestimating the importance of educational space, the Building Team designed the guillotine door as an added area for exhibitions.
“As a student, I feel constantly challenged to develop the details of my project to that high level of craft achieved by the Building Team,” Kahler said, adding that the team truly kept its audience in mind when developing the space.
Well-placed acoustical treatment absorbs sound that may rebound off the high-bay areas, providing a hushed environment for research and study, while strategically placed glass walls welcome natural light, illuminating spaces that originally lacked vitality.
“Studios are at the center of the facility, which is extremely valuable to the students’ creativity and peer-to-peer relationships,” Balfour said. “We never imagined that the building would so quickly become the theater of our imagination.”
CELEBRATING THE GRANDEUR OF SIMPLICITY
Since its opening in January, students and faculty alike have enjoyed learning and creating in what Balfour deems a “theater of imagination,” gaining inspiration from the dynamic and unique space around them.
“The [original] interior was obviously not configured for architectural education,” said Kahler. “But the project engaged a multiplicity of design challenges and offers remarkable solutions to each condition.”
Reusing much of the existing structure to create a vastly different atmosphere for architectural education, the Building Team never overcomplicated the design, keeping the space as true to its original functionalism as possible. This dedication to simplicity, Wertheimer said, is an invaluable tool for any fledgling architect.
“I think the students will realize they can do more with less,” he said. “Great architecture can be done with something simple. If they pay attention to their surroundings, they will realize everything is no more than it needs to be.” BD+C