Expansion in engineering: Is it worth the costs?

| Scene Reporter

Courtesy of Nick Benassi

Brauer Hall from the outside.

Stephen F. and Camilla T. Brauer Hall, the newest addition to the School of Engineering & Applied Science, was officially unveiled in a dedication ceremony on October 1. The building continues Washington University’s commitment to sustainability, yet this monstrous new building also raises some controversial environmental issues among students.

The LEED Gold-certified building is equipped with cutting-edge technological innovations to enhance students’ learning. A touch-screen monitor installed in the lobby, for example, displays the building’s past and current levels of energy production and consumption.

The building also features a distance learning classroom, fully equipped with long-distance conference calling and presentation technologies, allowing for worldwide collaboration in real time.

The construction and furnishing of the building was not cheap. In fact, Brauer Hall was, and continues to be, the most expensive Wash. U. building to operate.

The sustainable features of Brauer Hall were also an added expense. According to the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), obtaining a LEED Gold certification increases overall construction costs by approximately 2.2 percent.

Even among engineering students who use the building, there remains uncertainty about Brauer’s practical value. While many students agree that it is a beautiful facility, they feel it was primarily intended for the use of graduate students and professors conducting research, rather than undergraduate students. Many undergraduate engineering students report entering Brauer Hall only for office hours.

Ralph Quatrano, dean of the School of Engineering & Applied Sciences, feels that the building’s innovative lab spaces offer even undergraduate students opportunities that they wouldn’t have otherwise.

“[Brauer] is not an isolated building in the middle of a field,” Quatrano said. “It’s a collaboration space. Students will be interacting with other types of engineers. [It is a place where] undergraduates can work with the faculty. They’re going to come into contact with other types of engineers.”

According to Quatrano, making Brauer Hall sustainable not only benefits the environment but also teaches students and community members about the importance of green building practices. “[We] can’t keep going the way things are,” Quatrano said. “[Brauer Hall] is a demonstration of what can be done.”

The USGBC rating was obtained by placing particular emphasis on sustainability in the construction process. Brauer Hall uses renewable energy sources such as solar panels and a wind turbine and also features a cistern to store rainwater. The building is insulated with recycled blue jeans, further lowering its energy signature.

Besides being seen as an overpriced office building, there is also concern that Brauer Hall and the impending additions to the building will interrupt the picturesque, iconic view of Brookings Hall.

Located next to Whitaker Hall, Brauer Hall is just one part of an ongoing project to expand the University’s engineering facilities. A third building, Green Hall, is currently under construction and is set to be completed by next year.

When Green Hall is completed, all three buildings will be connected in a sprawling 160,000-square-foot complex.

“We’re about halfway there,” associate dean of engineering Nick Benassi said. “Eventually this whole parking lot will be buildings.”

While some members of the engineering community are excited about the project, others are concerned about how the new buildings will alter the University’s best-known feature—Brookings’ façade.

“If that entire parking lot was converted into buildings, it would completely block the steps in front of Brookings, which is the iconic image of Wash. U.,” said Andi Alper, a sophomore in the College of Arts & Sciences. “It’s on all of our brochures; it’s where all the tours start. It’s what brings people into the University.”

Despite these concerns, however, construction for the rest of the complex has been steadily continuing. Quatrano insists that in spite of the enormous costs, Brauer’s facilities address the specific needs of engineers, making it worth the expense.

Benassi agrees. “There’s certainly a higher up-front cost, but it pays off in the long run,” he said.

Ultimately, the University hopes the expanded engineering complex will foster collaboration among different departments and create a greater sense of community within the school.

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