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SIU Announces New Transportation Education Center

Image © Gensler

Ever wonder what putting a collection of aviation techs, group of high flying air jockeys and a collection of automotive gear heads together under one roof may inspire? Mix in a healthy collection of green strategies, innovative planning, and a creative design solution and you end up with a high tech instructional facility worthy of housing three distinct university programs, which are collectively working together towards the advancement of transportation, whether on the ground or in the air. Now place that facility within an overall remote site consisting of an aviation test cell building, an adjacent runway for the air jocks to take off from and an automotive storage center large enough to corral a healthy supply of four wheeled toys, and you have Southern Illinois University’s latest project; the Transportation Education Center, (TEC).

The operational complexity of merging three independent departments along with the typical university funding challenges made this a project in the making for over 15 years. A testament to perseverance, given the project has survived numerous leadership changes and limited public funding opportunities. The facility completion marks the end of a long, but successful journey.

The TEC is an 185,000 sf two story facility that incorporates student automotive lab facilities, aviation operations, faculty offices and multi functional spaces for three distinct departments. With a focus on collaboration, the design fosters cross departmental interaction for the ultimate betterment of each departments individual goals and challenges.

Image © Gensler

The design process included several iterations over several years and phases of the project, responding to extensive budgetary modifications. The project scope expanded and contracted with each budget variation. This required an integration of future expansion and potential scope reduction into the planning so that we could quickly address each budget direction.

Balancing the functional planning attributes of relatively large, noisy automotive service labs with the quiet and darkened aviation flight dispatch/ simulators was the biggest challenge. Each area brought fourth specific characteristics and attributes that needed to be maintained within the integration of the plan while also providing synergies with one another without compromising the functionality of either. The building is designed to be a showcase for each department, highlighting an active teaching environment to prospective student recruits and supporting businesses critical to the university’s future stability. Currently each department is one of the most recognized across the United States within their respective fields and this new facility will foster greater recognition by supporting the departments continuing teaching excellence.

As the first Southern Illinois University project pursuing LEED certification, sustainable goals were integrated at the onset of project planning and were integral throughout the design, construction and utilization process. The project ultimately received a LEED Silver rating, incorporating; sustainable site strategies, natural day lighting, material use, and energy efficiency. The project has also received an Illinois AIA design award for university projects.

The project further demonstrates Gensler’s successful approach to integrating complex program issues and varied user profiles into a well organized solution that addresses user requirements and creates an environment fostering forward thinking, individual exploration and creative collaboration. Professors, students and the public can flow through the facility, blurring the lines of separation and strengthening the cross-interaction paramount to the university’s aspirations. Integrating flexibility within the overall design assisted in navigating through state and university program and budgetary challenges and constraints, keeping the project on course and allowing the design team to respond efficiently and effectively throughout all phases of the process.

Image © Gensler

Christopher Beck is a senior associate in Gensler's Detroit office and is a member of the Detroit Chapter of the US Green Building Council (USGBC) and the Southeast Michigan Sustainable Business Forum (SMSBF). Contact him at chris_beck@gensler.com.

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