The Rising Classroom: Lafayette College’s New Sciences Center Inspires Students Before Doors Open

A critical part of an engineer’s education, particularly in building design, is the opportunity to see a design being constructed in the field. This experience allows engineers to apply scientific solutions to challenges consistent with the practical aspects of construction.

Lafayette College in Easton, PA recently celebrated 150 years of excellence in engineering education. Around the same time, construction began on a new state-of-the-art science building known as Rockwell Integrated Sciences Center (RISC). Once complete, the five story, 108,000 square foot center will feature classrooms, laboratories, a vivarium, greenhouse classrooms, administrative spaces and flexible spaces that can adapt to new technology and varying group sizes to encourage collaborative research.

Lafayette faculty, sensing a unique opportunity, immediately took advantage of the rising tower as a live teaching laboratory on campus.

During a series of “lunch and learns” and a behind-the-scenes hard hat tour of the site, engineering students had a chance to see first-hand how the project is being designed and built. The Harman Group, responsible for structural engineering, along with architectural firm Payette, construction manager Turner Construction Co., and other consultants for the project presented every aspect of the project to the students, from geology and geotechnical engineering and foundation design to structural analysis and design of the concrete and steel superstructure.

RSIC is a particularly unique project for Lafayette students and faculty to observe. The center is situated on the north side of the campus’ quad, adjacent to the Anderson Courtyard, in between two existing buildings and set into a hillside, requiring a unique structural configuration of the five-story building. The building terraces down the steep slope with the main entrance from Anderson Courtyard into the third floor with two floors below and three floors visible from the courtyard. The foundation system employs spread footings, underpinning of the existing buildings and replacement of an aging 15-foot-tall retaining wall on the slope. Once complete, RISC will feature a dramatic four-level atrium, and is strategically designed with vibration control to prevent hindrances on any research in the lab spaces.

As an engineering alumnus of Lafayette, I was particularly honored to be a part of this teaching opportunity. A critical part of an engineer’s education, particularly in building design, is the opportunity to see a design being constructed in the field. Structural engineers use computer analysis to design a building’s structure. Complexities occur when joining these members together and coordinating the structure with the architecture and mechanical systems in the building. Seeing how each design is implemented in real life, such as welding and bolting in steel structures, or fitting all the reinforcing steel in concrete structures, informs structural design. A design solution is only as good as the practical reality of constructing it in the field.

At The Harman Group, we strive to design practical, constructible structural solutions that help the design and construction team meet the owner’s goals. We find it important to educate our engineers on the practical aspects of implementing our designs. This requires trips to the construction site to see our designs in the building process and communicating with contractors, architects and other design professionals to understand their needs. We frequently take our new engineers into the field to understand this important side of design.

For more information on Lafayette’s program for construction and engineering students, read Amid Construction, Rockwell Already Inspires.

By Kirk Harman