Bringing together business, technology and design thinking, UW Tacoma's newest building embodies a spirit of innovative collaboration.
“Milgard Hall is the start of a new era at UW Tacoma.”
So says Chancellor Sheila Edwards Lange.
She is referring to a new spirit of innovative collaboration – across UW Tacoma’s academic units, and between campus and community.
The design and construction of Milgard Hall itself are examples of that new spirit. The life that the campus and community bring to the building will embody and activate that new spirit.
“UW Tacoma has already built a national reputation for our interdisciplinarity and our community engagement,” said Lange. “But bringing Milgard Hall to reality has pushed us, and will push us, to do even more. The innovative collaboration that produced this spectacular new building illuminates our way forward toward our goal of being the best regional university in the nation.”
For the first 30 years of UW Tacoma’s history, new campus spaces were almost all restorations of the existing stock of warehouses and early 20th century commercial structures that are concentrated along the Pacific Avenue side.
But not only is Milgard Hall a brand-new building, it is the first modern building in the South Sound to be a full-on mass-timber structure. That means wood is used for structural elements like columns and beams as well as in panel form for floors and ceilings.
And it is designed from the ground up to promote collaboration.
By bringing together scholars, students and the community in engineering and technology, business and problem-solving, Milgard Hall provides a physical framework intended to promote the kinds of planned and serendipitous interactions that are a hallmark of innovation.
Those scholars, students and community members will be having those interactions in an environment in some ways very different from other campus buildings.
The design of Milgard Hall leaves the glue-laminated columns and beams and the cross-laminated panels of the ceilings exposed. Their natural tones and wood grain will surround users with the patterns and colors of timber.
Researchers in biophilic design have found that people’s productivity, sense of well-being and ability to learn are improved in built environments that incorporate or evoke nature. Studies have found building occupants “express a preference for natural materials,” according to a research review by APA – The Engineered Wood Association, a Tacoma-based timber industry organization.
Milgard Hall will provide occupants with plenty of daylight and timber surroundings.
What's in the building?
Milgard Hall will house:
Milgard School of Business administrative offices
Milgard Centers for Excellence
Global Innovation & Design Lab
Financial Wellness & Markets lab
Machinery and fabrication shop
Hydrology lab and Geotechnical/soils mechanics lab
Biomechanics and Robotics lab
Environmental/air quality lab
120-person teaching innovation classroom
Two 80-person general classrooms and 48-person computer classroom
Small-group learning spaces/breakout rooms
Milgard Hall ground floor
Milgard Hall second floor
Milgard Hall third floor
Milgard Hall also heralds a new era in sustainable construction and operation of UW Tacoma buildings.
“Mass timber is a very sustainable, renewable approach to building,” said Kim Yao, principal with ARO Architecture Research Office, the designers of Milgard Hall.
According to research published in 2019 by UW scientists, compared to building materials like steel and reinforced concrete, mass timber construction methods -- when accompanied by sustainable forestry practices -- put fewer greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, consume less energy in production, delivery and installation and capture more carbon.
“Mass timber supports more off-site fabrication and more-precise detailing,” said Yao. The designs of structural components and sub-assemblies are electronically transmitted directly to a manufacturing plant to be fabricated by computer-aided tools.
“The goal is ‘No sawdust on site,’” said Yao, meaning eliminating or minimizing the need to cut holes through -- or alter the size of -- beams and panels when timber gets to the building site.
What is mass timber?
It has been described as “wood from small trees, made into big things (Crosscut),” and “a catchall term for engineered wood that’s cut into slabs and then stacked together to make strong panels or beams (The World).”
Although wood has been laminated in various ways for decades (plywood, grand piano rims), the mass-timber revolution incorporates sustainable forestry, digital modeling, off-site fabrication, and carbon capture.
The way Milgard Hall was designed and built is a harbinger for the kinds of collaboration and innovation it is meant to catalyze.
The UW chose to employ a project management method called “integrated design-build.” IDB, as it is sometimes abbreviated, brings together the project designer, the construction firm and the owner (UW) in a collaborative process starting at the earliest stages of the project.
For Milgard Hall, the designer is the aforementioned ARO, and the builder is Andersen Construction.
Representatives from Andersen, ARO and UW began meeting even before a contract to deliver the building was signed. “It’s been a really fun process,” said Kim Yao with ARO, “but it has also been a lot of hard work. All the key decision makers are together, so decision-making is very efficient and there is transparency. We have to be able to trust one another for it to work well.”
“ARO has been terrific to work with,” said Brad Nile, project executive at Andersen. “They are completely receptive to the integrated design-build approach.” For Milgard Hall, UW signed a contract with Andersen, and Andersen hired ARO. This differs from a more traditional building-delivery model, where UW would have hired the architect and the contractor through separate contracts.
“It has been amazing working with Anderson and UW on this project,” said Yao. “Andersen has so much mass-timber experience. We are learning from them in ways that benefit us going forward, and we are working very well as a team.”
Stanley Joshua, co-interim vice chancellor for finance and administration at UW Tacoma, whose portfolio includes capital projects like Milgard Hall, joined ARO and Andersen in praising the IDB process. “Because we were all in constant communication, we were able to deal with innumerable issues that would have festered in a less-collaborative process,” said Joshua. “And the entire project team developed a set of shared values around design excellence, sustainability and creating an amazing building.”
The teamwork extended down to the many sub-contractors that carried out specialized tasks.
A critical player was the supplier of mass timber, Kalesnikoff Lumber Co. Ltd. Located along the Kootenay River between Castlegar and Nelson, British Columbia, Canada, Kalesnikoff sustainably manages its own forests in the West Kootenay region of B.C. The company made the leap into mass timber when it opened a $36-million plant in 2020.
Another sub with a small but critical role was Code Unlimited, a minority-owned building code and fire-safety consulting firm headquartered in Portland, Ore. CodeUL has expertise in mass timber, and particularly played a role in ensuring Milgard Hall met Washington code and fire standards.
Milgard Hall's mass timber began as trees in Kalesnikoff Lumber Co. Ltd. forests in the West Kootenay region of British Columbia.
Sustainably harvested timber was brought from the forest to Kalesnikoff's fabrication plant on the banks of the Kootenay River. Map by OpenStreetMap.
Inside Kalesnikoff's plant, a cross-laminated timber panel is being assembled. Photo by Nik West, courtesy naturallywood.com.
A truck brings the first cross-laminated timber panels to the Milgard Hall construction site.
A crane lowers Milgard Hall's first cross-laminated timber panel into place, atop a matrix of glue-laminated columns and beams.
Collaboration Going Forward
The spaces in Milgard Hall will allow its major users – the Milgard School of Business, the School of Engineering & Technology (SET), and the Global Innovation & Design Lab (GID Lab) – to do more of what they already do, and do new things.
For example, the Milgard School will gain a financial-markets trading laboratory, a space equipped with a stock ticker, screens displaying up-to-the-minute financial news, and computer stations where students will have access to financial research and trading software.
“Students will use these tools to manage an investment fund that will be seeded by a generous gift from our community supporters,” said Milgard School Dean Altaf Merchant. “The fund is one component of a new program on financial wellness and financial literacy that we are launching.”
The building will provide teaching and research labs for students and faculty in SET. “We recently launched undergraduate degrees in mechanical and civil engineering,” said SET Dean Raj Katti. “Milgard Hall will house a machine and fabrication shop, a concrete lab, combustion lab, hydrology lab, geotechnical/soil mechanics lab, biomechanics lab, and an environmental/air quality lab.”
The GID Lab will gain two design labs, a community workshop hall and cubicles for focused work. “People see the big building, expanded space, more classrooms,” said Dr. Divya McMillin, Associate Vice Chancellor for Innovation. “I see the excitement of problem solving, the bustle of people, small groups around mobile boards and 3D models. I hear the laughter and chatter of brainstorming, upbeat music as we work through barriers and break through to solutions.”
“As much as we needed the new space,” said Chancellor Lange, “what is even more valuable about Milgard Hall is the cross-campus collaboration it will support.”
That collaboration is already beginning to emerge. Divya McMillin, Andrew Fry from SET, and Dr. Jill Purdy and Thomas Kuljam from the Milgard School are working together to design an entrepreneurship initiative. In its early stages, this could result in new courses in both schools, new opportunities for community engagement, and new programs to mentor students, faculty and staff from any discipline who have an idea for a business or technology innovation.
“Milgard Hall is a very unusual mix of programs,” said Kim Yao of ARO. “The whole idea is to create synergy among them. We put a lot of effort into the project definition phase, in order to create a building that presents the opportunity for really productive overlaps among business, technology and design.”
A notable feature of Milgard Hall will be an exhibit on the history of the timber industry in Tacoma, to be located on the ground floor in an area known as the "connector."
The Puyallup Tribe of Indians played a prominent role in the design of the display. Adjacent to the exhibit is a panel acknowledging that UW Tacoma occupies what has been Puyallup land since time immemorial.
The timber exhibit depicts the Puget Sound region before the arrival of Europeans, the coming of the railroads, the growth of Tacoma, the opening of UW Tacoma and the significance of Milgard Hall.
The addition of Milgard Hall to UW Tacoma makes a dramatic and beautiful impact on the campus. But the impact is not limited to the 46 acres in Tacoma’s downtown.
The benefits of the intensified focus on collaboration and community engagement that the building fosters will ripple out far beyond that big steel W at 19th and Jefferson Streets.
The litany of advantages accruing to the South Sound is long – workforce development, equitable access to good jobs in high-demand careers, addressing community challenges through design thinking, fostering entrepreneurship, supporting innovative community-engaged research, and more.
“We are an anchor institution in Tacoma,” said Chancellor Lange. “We are here for the long term, and we are thinking about our next 100 years. Milgard Hall is just the beginning. Working with our community, there is nothing that will hold us back.”