Oct. 11, 2011

Human Ecology Building advances science and design

The new Human Ecology Building -- an 89,000-square-foot, "green" facility loaded with high-tech laboratories and classrooms, studios for drawing, design and fabrication, and a spacious gallery -- is likely a conversation piece for many.

For one of its occupants, fiber scientist Margaret Frey, a great benefit of the building is that it promises to turn such impromptu conversations into novel research collaborations.

Frey, who creates ultra-fine fibers for uses in biohazard detection, agriculture and clothing, says new advances depend upon partnerships across campus -- connections made possible by the building's specialized labs, shared research and meeting spaces, and convenient location along Forest Home Drive.

"If I run into someone from entomology on campus, I can invite them to come look at what we're doing in the lab," said Frey, associate professor of fiber science and apparel design. "The real innovations are coming from these kinds of connections, not the lone researcher in the lab."

The building, which will be officially dedicated Oct. 20 with a ribbon cutting, was designed by the architecture firm Gruzen Samton to enable such collaborations.

Consider the first floor, where faculty and students examine human performance and health -- from nanofibers for protective clothing, 3-D scans of body sizes and movements to cognitive changes in older adults and safer building materials.

"The floor ... fulfills a dream of integration across the college's departments," said Kay Obendorf, senior associate dean of research and graduate education.

The building is also the new home for the Department of Fiber Science & Apparel Design (FSAD), with administrative and faculty offices, textile testing labs and studios for every step of the apparel design and production process.

It includes a drawing studio that is filled with abundant natural light, which helps students perceive color; two more apparel studios with industrial equipment for patternmaking, draping and fabrication; a computer-aided-design facility; and a lab for applying surface designs to textiles.

The building also features a large wood and metal shop with such sophisticated tools as computer-driven routers, a paint room and a large assembly studio for students to construct furniture and other models they design.

For all its modern marvels, the new building also holds historic treasures in the Cornell Costume and Textile Collection, with more than 9,000 garments dating from the 18th century. Previously, the collection was tucked away, but the collection's prominent location in the new building will raise awareness of a valuable resource for teaching and research. And the Jill Stuart Gallery offers a prominent place to display student projects and creations.

Staff also benefit from the building's design, says Sandra Dhimitri, Human Ecology's human resources director, with daylight views from all work stations, abundant landscaping, ergonomic work stations, "the infusion of casual lounge and meeting spaces through the work environment," and such perks as covered bike parking, shower/changing rooms and lactation rooms.

As for being "green," the building could likely get gold as per LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) criteria, planners say, but they are striving for platinum, LEED's highest rating. Its green features include, for example, automatic ventilation that adjusts when labs are unoccupied, a green roof and landscaping to help offset heat loss, furniture salvaged and refinished from existing inventory, an electric vehicle charging station and a glass façade for "daylight harvesting," which is meant to boost occupant productivity and health and lessen electrical lighting demands.

All in all, the building, says Obendorf, fosters inspiration, creativity and collaboration.

"There's a commingling of research units and faculty expertise that matches the character of Human Ecology, where we reach across disciplines to work on common issues," Obendorf said. "The whole building is intentionally designed to foster these types of collaborations."

Ted Boscia is assistant director of communications in the College of Human Ecology.