When Lawrence Technological University opens for the 2016 fall semester, a new building will grace the Southfield, Mich., campus quadrangle.
But LTU’s A. Alfred Taubman Engineering, Architecture and Life Sciences Complex is much more than a building.
The $16.9 million, 36,700-square-foot Taubman Complex provides the 4,500-
student private university much-needed laboratory, collaboration and workspaces to support emerging multidisciplinary programs. These include biomedical engineering, which combines biology, materials science and mechanical engineering, and robotics, which marries mathematics, computer science and mechanical, electrical and controls engineering.
The new building also features groundbreaking use of composite materials in a dramatic, egg-shaped central staircase called the Orb. Forty-four feet tall and 20 feet around at its widest point, the Orb offers an eye-catching element at the midpoint of the building. It was built in segments at a molder in Cape Coral, Fla., transported to Michigan on trailers and assembled on site. Composites World, an industry magazine, called it “a bellwether for the expansion of composites into architectural applications previously considered out of reach” for structural use. According to the magazine, the Orb “not only looks good, but also enabled designers to realize a lighter, thinner structure. It’s a composites showcase that could dramatically change the perception of composites as mere aesthetic add-ons in the architectural engineer’s toolbox.”
The Taubman Complex was designed by architect Thom Mayne of Culver City, Calif., founder of Morphosis, an internationally recognized architecture and design firm. The Harvard-trained architect is known for his emphasis on environmentally friendly buildings.
The architect and engineer of record on the project is Albert Kahn Associates of Detroit, a firm known internationally for its passion to explore new materials and construction methods. The Kahn team includes several alumni of LTU’s College of Architecture and Design, which at 700 students is Michigan’s largest architectural college. The general contractor is Detroit-based DeMaria Building Co.
A sustainable structure
The new building will reflect an ongoing commitment to environmentally sustainable technology at LTU and will be submitted for certification under the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program, a set of rigorous building energy efficiency standards created by the U.S. Green Building Council. The building will also connect to Lawrence Tech’s existing Science Building on its third floor, and to the existing Engineering Building on its first and second floors. Future phases of the Taubman Complex project include renovations and improvements to both buildings.
The first floor features a 60-foot-long, 20-foot-wide lab for the research of LTU’s Eric G. Meyer, associate professor in the university’s biomedical engineering program. It will house Meyer’s research into biomechanics, orthopedic sports medicine, injury mechanisms, joint function, gait analysis, prosthetic limb technology and more.
The first floor also features an embedded software laboratory and a robotics lab that is more than twice the size of the current robotics space.
On the second floor is a robotics lab for LTU’s C.J. Chung, professor of mathematics and computer science, and founder of Robofest, the global youth robotics competition. The second floor also houses engineering research studios for the design and fabrication of student projects. These are high bay spaces that are open to the top of the third floor.
The third floor will also feature a biomedical engineering laboratory, microfabrication clean room, lab for biology-based micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS), bioinstrumentation lab, biosensor lab and cell culture and cell biology labs.
Also on the third floor are the offices of the Marburger STEM Center, established to organize and support LTU’s many activities to boost Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education and careers at the K-12 level (see sidebar). Sibrina Collins, a chemistry professor and researcher who was most recently director of education at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, is the center’s first executive director. The center is named after Richard Marburger, LTU president 1977-93, who remains active with the university as president emeritus. The center was made possible by a $20 million gift to LTU from an anonymous donor, the largest such gift in the university’s 84-year history.
One thing the building won’t have is a classroom — not in the traditional sense, with rows of desks, all oriented toward a presentation area for an instructor. Instead, all of the spaces in the building are intended to be open and collaborative.
LTU campus architect Joe Veryser says he’s genuinely impressed by the building — its appearance and aesthetics.
“I didn’t think I was going to be this impressed by the Orb itself,” Veryser says. “I know it’s a landmark visual thing on the outside, but I did not expect it to be this great a feature on the inside. As we cleaned it up and put the glass handrails in, it just became more and more striking. I’m impressed with the building overall, and the things we’ve built into it aesthetically.”
Finally, the Taubman Complex is the last indoor connection between all the major academic buildings on the Lawrence Tech Southfield campus. Its opening made it possible to walk from the Buell Management Building on the northwest side, through the Taubman Student Services Center to a second-story bridge connecting to the Science Building, through the Taubman Complex to the Engineering Building, to the University Technology and Learning Center classroom and office building, and finally to the Architecture Building — in a roundabout U, all without having to go outdoors.