Institutes will provide space for science, arts, community

Faculty, staff and graduate students are invited to give input on the design of the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery during upcoming town hall meetings, planned for Oct. 1, 8 and 10.

The Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery are twin institutes, one public and one private, that will be constructed in the heart of campus as a hub for interdisciplinary research. They include the public Wisconsin Institute for Discovery (WID) and the private Morgridge Institute for Research. Construction is expected to begin in 2008 and be completed in 2010, encompassing the entire 1300 block of University Avenue.

Carl Gulbrandsen, managing director of the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF), says the institutes are integral to WARF’s mission to support research at UW<–Madison.

“The institutes are a true public-private partnership between the state, John and Tashia Morgridge, WARF and the university,” he says. “For the trustees of WARF and for the Morgridges, the Wisconsin institutes will be a legacy designed to make a great university even greater.”

The vision is for a secure, multidisciplinary research facility, combined with an open, inviting public space. According to the architects and others involved, it’s a challenge to combine a public and a private research institute under one roof.

Added to that is creating a space that will really be used by the community: a bustling “town center,” which will contain light, plants, art installations, and performance and retail space. The goal is to create a space where people will want to gather, regardless of whether or not they work in the building.

“Many buildings have an internal atrium,” says Craig Spangler, principal at the Ballinger architectural firm and design lead on the project. “In this case, we’ve put the atrium on both sides. We want the building to be approachable from any side and very open, so the public can see what’s going on inside. The idea of having an externalized commons is one of the things that makes this building unique.”

Alan Fish, who leads facilities planning and management at UW–Madison, says connecting the collegiate campus on the north side of University Avenue, with the more urban campus on the south, is an important goal.

“When the university jumped the street, we put the nail in the coffin of commercial vitality in this area, really deadening the commercial space,” says Fish, noting that 30 years ago, University Avenue and Johnson Street were the commercial center of this side of town. “What we’re trying to do is re-commercialize and reactivate this area.”

Fish notes that a new Union South, proposed for the same footprint as the current building and directly across from the new Wisconsin institutes, is also critical to their success.

“These are the first two buildings that will have outward-facing, public spaces, with commercial, public space on the ground floor,” says Fish, noting plans for food services, coffee shops and even dry cleaning and convenience stores. “This will recapture and redefine the commercial vitality in this area.”

The university has invested more than $200 million in science, technology and student life buildings within five blocks of the new facilities according to Fish, creating a “vibrant hub for science.” The institutes and the proposed Union South will “fill in the center.”

Another challenge of the project is the lack of pre-determined occupants to guide the design.

Because the institutes will not serve as a home to any specific department or school, the team had to use a different approach.

“We created a surrogate group of researchers to help us define the building and how we’ll use it,” Fish says.

This group of scientists included more than 100 faculty members from across campus who took part in eight focus groups and multiple workshops over the spring and summer. They provided critical input on issues such as core scientific services, activating the public spaces, and providing space for outreach and education.

The town hall meetings will take place between 4 and 5 p.m. at the following locations:

  • Monday, Oct. 1: Ebling Symposium Center, Microbial Sciences Building
  • Monday, Oct. 8: 1610 Engineering Hall
  • Wednesday, Oct. 10: main auditorium, first floor, Fluno Center