This semester, the thousands of students at Colorado State University enrolled in biology courses will have a brand-new home base. The new Biology Building opens its doors Aug. 14, welcoming students, faculty, and staff to a new, inspiring space for the department.
“We are a college that prides itself in our discoveries, both in the laboratory and in the classroom, and I cannot imagine a better space for our students and faculty to continue that tradition,” said Jan Nerger, dean of the College of Natural Sciences. “We worked hard to design and create a space that encourages and inspires learning on all fronts, and I am thrilled to see this incredible building come to fruition.”
The four-story, LEED Gold-certified structure will house the entire department, including all of its research labs, special collections used for teaching, and faculty offices. A large portion of the building is also dedicated to updated classrooms, teaching labs, student common spaces, advising and tutoring offices, and study rooms.
“It’s designed to foster more interaction,” said Mike Antolin, professor and chair of the Department of Biology, “and it has the flexibility to be able to meet unanticipated future needs.”
The 155,000 square-foot, $70 million building was funded in large part by the University Facility Fee Advisory Board, a group of students who determine the allocation of the student facility fee. Inspired by this funding, the department wanted to make the building “people-friendly and individual-friendly,” said biology Associate Professor Joe von Fischer. “There’s light, there’s comfortable seating. It’s user-friendly.”
The biology department is the largest in the College of Natural Sciences, with more than 1,400 undergraduates studying in the biological science or zoology majors More than 60 percent of all CSU undergraduates take a class in the department. No matter what a student is studying, said Associate Professor Rachel Mueller, “We made the space of the building to feel creative,” to allow students “to ask their own questions” and foster a sense of wonder.
The new building will open up more opportunities for hands-on laboratory work for undergraduate students, both in class and in working with faculty members on their research. Even for those who are not working in a lab, they will be able to see research happening firsthand. The “science on display” design of the building allows a view into the labs from the hallways through glass panels. “After living in a largely windowless building, we’ve gone a little crazy with windows,” Antolin joked.
One of the most striking features inside the new building is the addition of interpretive science displays throughout the first floor. “We wanted it to be a uniquely biology building, to help students feel a connection to the word they’re studying,” said Mueller, who worked closely with the designer of the displays, Studio Tectonic, which works with museums all over the world.
Additional features of the new building lie hidden in its infrastructure. “Even though the building looks fancy, we constantly looked for ways to economize and make the most of student fees,” said von Fischer. For example, by combining laboratory space, they could centralize plumbing, ventilation, and drains, which created significant savings. The energy efficiency of the structure also means it will cost less to run day to day.
And the building’s assets don’t end with the exterior walls. The structure also includes a large second-level plaza, designed for outdoor gatherings and studying – complete with power outlets. Around the building, the department worked to design landscaping that features native plants and a strategic storm water collection zone.
A new chapter
Construction on the building, which was designed by the firm Hord Coplan Macht, started in fall of 2015 at a combined groundbreaking ceremony with the new neighboring Chemistry Research Building. In spring 2016, the Haselden Construction teams and department celebrated the placement of the building’s final steel beam – signed by CSU President Tony Frank, Dean Nerger, and others (you can still see the beam at the top of the eastern stairwell).
The space that the biology department previously occupied in the Anatomy-Zoology Building will be divided among the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and the Office of the Vice President for Research’s special project areas.
The College of Natural Sciences will celebrate the formal grand opening of the Biology Building and the Chemistry Research Building, the new anchors of the growing CSU Science Mall, during Homecoming and Family Weekend.