The University of Pittsburgh decided to expand and renovate Benedum Hall, the circa 1968 home for the Swanson School of Engineering on their main Oakland campus. The original limestone clad modernist tower and separate auditorium buildings, with their inflexible and non-daylit concrete block labs and offices and out of date classrooms, had become obsolete as the school’s focus shifted to the 21st century collaborative disciplines of nanotechnology, bioengineering and materials research. The University desired a more flexible facility that was conducive to inter-departmental collaboration, and that could help attract the best and brightest research faculty and students from around the world. The project had two segments: a 22,000 square foot addition to house the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation, and a full renovation in phases of the existing buildings, including full upgrades to all mechanical, electrical, plumbing and life safety systems (the design team was responsible for both segments). The project started with an extensive master planning and programming phase, with the often conflicting needs and desires of over 70 research faculty and administrators coordinated and organized in close collaboration with the university facilities group. Both the addition and renovations were completed while the building remained fully occupied and functional, making the planning, move management and construction management a significant challenge.
The addition, housing the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation, forms a raised link on the site’s north side between the original tower and auditorium. A poured-in-place concrete structure carefully threads its way through the existing basement and subbasement lab spaces below, and is expressed by the large sloped piers supporting the building over O’Hara Street. The metal panel and mullionless curtain wall-clad addition contains computer labs, conference spaces and administrative spaces, and will itself act as a laboratory for cross disciplinary research into sustainable building and product design. It also contains a new four story open stair hall, linking the three buildings of the ensemble, and forming a new entry down to the original building’s basement which has been opened up to house a new Teaching / Learning Center.