Page D1.1 . 24 August 2011                     
ArchitectureWeek - Design Department
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Study in Engineering

by Michael J. Crosbie

Architecture as a teaching tool is a very old idea. Think about those cathedrals whose stained glass and sculpture indoctrinated their congregations on the lessons of Christianity. And when Thomas Jefferson was planning the University of Virginia, it is said that he intended the architecture to function partially as text; he had designed the pavilions along the great lawn in different architectural styles to instruct students on Western architecture's greatest achievements.

And in that pedagogical spirit, a new 35,300-square-foot (3,280-square-meter) building for the civil engineering program at the University of Minnesota Duluth is designed to teach students about materials, how they go together, how they age, and how they express the forces inherent in any structure.

"We started by asking, 'What do they need to learn as engineers, and what forces do they need to control?'" says architect Carol Ross Barney of Chicago, who designed the Swenson Civil Engineering Building. (The associate architect was SJA Architects of Duluth.)

Civil engineers design infrastructure to move water, to move traffic, to hold back the earth, to span long distances. In the northeastern part of Minnesota, including Duluth, civil engineers are particularly occupied with mining in the state's Iron Range, where iron ore is extracted. These aspects of professional focus and the special features of this region led Barney to design an engineering building that couldn't be anywhere else, for any other discipline.   >>>

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A bifold door clad in weathering steel dominates the eastern end wall of the new Swenson Civil Engineering building in Duluth, Minnesota.
Photo: Kate Joyce Studios/ Courtesy Ross Barney Architects Extra Large Image

ArchWeek Image

On the north side of the building, three dramatically cantilevered scuppers convey rainwater into large steel drums.
Photo: Kate Joyce Studios/ Courtesy Ross Barney Architects Extra Large Image


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