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Bridging the World

Bridging the World

A new residence hall reinforces the global vision of a university on the move. 

By By Robert Cassidy, Editorial Director | September 13, 2010
The bridge design was directly related to Roger Williams University's mission, "Learning to bridge the world."
This article first appeared in the Issue Title - April 2010 issue of BD+C.

Over the last decade, Roger Williams University has undergone a dramatic transformation. In that time frame, the 52-year-old institution, which sits on 140 acres overlooking Mount Hope Bay in Bristol, R.I., has seen its endowment more than double, its applications rise more than 100%, and its admissions become much more selective. The 3,667-student institution has been working its way through two strategic plans, the most recent of which, RWU 2020, proposes a sweeping curriculum reorganization with a global theme: "Learning to bridge the world." One way RWU students can do that is to take advantage of the university's 47 study abroad programs.

RWU has also pushed through an extensive capital development program, a key component of which is the residential master plan, whose goal is to improve campus life and strengthen the overall campus plan by encouraging more students to live on campus.

It is in this context that the university, in 2007, charged the Boston office of architect Perkins+Will and construction manager Bond Brothers, Everett, Mass., with building a new residence hall for 350 students in a previously undeveloped sector on the north edge of the campus. In researching the project, the design team met with student groups, administration, faculty leaders, and facilities representatives; hosted tours of several recently built residence halls at nearby universities; and conducted a workshop that included visits from hand-picked product and systems vendors.

To make the new campus housing meet the needs of a greater variety of students, the university stipulated that seven different types of units and suites be made available, everything from single efficiencies and resident assistant units, to three-, four-, and six-student apartments with full kitchens and dining areas, all the way up to 10-person living/learning suites. Such a mandate could have created a nightmare for any Building Team trying to fit all those different-size puzzle pieces into a manageable floor plan. "Having that many room configurations would have scared away a lot of contractors," noted Building Team Awards judge John Durbrow, a professor of architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago. But not this Building Team.

The unit types were scaled in such a way as to create a floor plate that varied in depth from 50 feet to 60 feet in width; for example, single apartments were sized at half the width of a four-person apartment and one-third the width of a six-person apartment. This matrix of unit types was further expressed in the building's façade, which the designers sculpted with dramatic cantilevers and recesses.

To be on time for student occupancy in the fall of 2009, the Building Team, working closely with the university, found ways to cut three months out of what normally would have been an 18-month schedule, while sticking to the budget.

The most crucial decision was to divide the 120,000-foot program into three wings in a kind of blunted V shape, with the wings connected by a pair of aboveground bridges. Such a configuration would unite the core campus to the south with a major parking structure to the north. The physical division of the project enabled the contractor to use staggered staging, starting with the north wing (deemed the easiest to construct), then moving to the progressively more difficult south wing, and finishing with the east wing (the hardest). In so doing, the trades were able to work out means and methods on the easier parts of the building before going to the most difficult. Multiple trades could be on site without stepping on each other's toes, saving precious weeks from the schedule.

Structural engineer Odeh Engineers, Inc., North Providence, R.I., pitched in with the idea of using a composite steel and precast system to reduce the building's overall height with no compromise to the design. By aligning modified steel girders with hollow-core precast slabs, the system would trim the typical floor-to-floor height by eight inches. Early in the construction phase, however, the supplier of the floor planks bailed out, saying that it could not meet the rigorous delivery schedule. Building Team members worked furiously to identify a new slab supplier (Girder-Slab Technologies, Cherry Hill, N.J.) within 48 hours. The job was able to proceed on schedule, with two feet, eight inches being shaved off the total height of the building.

Odeh and P+W jointly conceived of a way to gain the optimal effect from the building's double-height glazed bridges, which were seen as a direct expression of the university's mission of "learning to bridge the world." They came up with a structural design incorporating rigid steel construction and three-foot-deep beams hidden just below the roof to support the thin bridge slabs with four-inch steel tubes. Hanging the bridge from deep beams on the upper level thus minimized the structural framing members and was instrumental in creating the light, airy feel of the bridges.

All the stakeholders wanted something special for the façade of the interior courtyard, which was seen as having the potential to provide an "outdoor living room" effect. A vegetated green wall was one option that was considered; in the end, however, a wood veneer was chosen to provide a sense of warmth and intimacy for the courtyard, in contrast to the brick and zinc-featured details of the outer-facing walls.

Getting the rainscreen courtyard façade right required careful attention to detail in construction quality and coordination. Early on in the design process, Perkins+Will and Bond Brothers engaged the key subcontractors—masons, roofers, curtain wall installers, and rainscreen carpenters—and the window fabricator to make sure of the complex detailing. A wall mockup was built and tested to establish the final as-built details. The high level of skill and cooperation that was achieved was proven when the rainscreen façade passed every water pressure test on the first try.

One final, very tangible measure of the success of this project: Bond Brothers was able to return over $300,000 of its contingency to the university. BD+C


Gold Award
North Campus Residence Hall, Roger Williams University
Bristol, R.I.

Building Team
Submitting firm: Perkins+Will (architect/interior designer)
Owner: Roger Williams University
Structural engineer: Odeh Engineers, Inc.
MEP/fire protection engineer: Rist Frost Shumway Engineering, P.C.
Civil engineer: Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc.
Landscape architect: Carol R. Johnson Associates, Inc.
Construction manager: Bond Brothers, Inc.

General Information
Project size: 120,000 sf
Construction cost: Confidential, at client’s request
Construction time: May 2008 to August 2009
Delivery method: CM under guaranteed maximum price

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