Text description provided by the architects. Central utility plants are becoming more integral to the campuses and communities they serve. No longer are these facilities by default hidden behind chain link fences, out of sight and out of mind. On the contrary, buildings like the West Campus Utility Plant (WCUP) demonstrate how infrastructure can become a much more visible, active and engaging part of the urban fabric.
The WCUP provides chilled water and emergency power to the University of Washington’s Seattle campus. The existing central utility plant, which has served the University for over 100 years, had reached capacity and was unable to expand to serve over 4,000,000 sf of new development proposed by the 2018 UW Campus Master Plan on the growing south and west campuses. The WCUP facility was developed to enable the UW to support this targeted growth for the next 100 years.
The project offered a unique opportunity to advance the University of Washington’s sustainability mission not only by reducing the environmental impact of new campus energy infrastructure but also by conveying a strong sustainability message through the design of the building itself. While most industrial scale infrastructure is hidden from view and inaccessible to the public, the WCUP is located at a prominent campus gateway. The facility’s design, led by The Miller Hull Partnership, makes the invisible visible: by providing windows into the process and exposing critical systems to public view, the important services that we all rely on can be observed and understood rather than taken for granted.
The University of Washington campus may be the only urban area in Seattle where industrial-scale chillers can be readily seen right from the sidewalk, and while the visibility of this equipment has an educational value in and of itself, the University was also interested in using the project to tell the story of their commitment to sustainability in a manner that would be impactful and inspire action. Simply put: facts inform, but powerful stories resonate. To help tell these stories, a series of LCD displays installed just inside the curtain wall glazing provide a platform for student-produced content related to environmental programs on campus. While the building’s glowing polycarbonate screen wall acts as a “magnet” that draws in visitors from around the campus and the broader community, the screens at the pedestrian level resemble a kind of “portal”, an information-rich view into the University’s stewardship of the environment.
The WCUP project is the first Envision Gold certified project at the University of Washington and the first Higher-Ed certified building project in the United States. Envision is an independent third party rating system designed specifically for sustainable infrastructure projects and was created to evaluate, grade and give recognition to infrastructure projects that provide progress and contributions for a sustainable future.
The WCUP was delivered using the Progressive Design-Build contract structure where Design-Build team is selected based primarily on qualifications and approach rather than design/cost proposals. It was the first building at the University to be completed using this delivery method.