As plans for the university’s new engineering, design and computing building progress, Chancellor Michelle Marks used one word to describe the project: spectacular. Not only in the way it will transform the Speer Boulevard corridor but also in its purpose and mission to create a more equitable engineering education and workforce talent pipeline. In mid-March, the project reached a major milestone as campus leaders selected the internationally acclaimed and locally represented SmithGroup to design the building.
“SmithGroup is one of the nation’s leaders in the higher education space,” said Jered Minter, campus architect for CU Denver. “They demonstrated an overwhelming amount of direct experience designing higher education engineering laboratories and spaces throughout the country.”
In addition to the firm’s impressive technical skill and robust project portfolio, including designing the first academic building on the Virginia Tech Innovation Campus and the University of Texas at Dallas Engineering Building, those close to the project say SmithGroup’s vision aligns with CU Denver’s values—among them diversity, equity, and innovation.
Building Will Be An ‘Integrated Catalyst’ For Innovation District
CU Denver first announced plans to pursue the new engineering, design and computing building last October. In addition to housing the College of Engineering, Design and Computing and leveraging computing and technology initiatives campuswide, the building will serve as the anchor of an open innovation district, as outlined in goal four of CU Denver’s 2030 Strategic Plan. This district will cultivate new technology, partnerships, programming, diverse talent, and in-demand jobs, all in one hub located in the heart of downtown Denver.
Martin Dunn, dean of the College of Engineering, Design and Computing, said the building will be a gamechanger for the CEDC and CU Denver by serving students with cutting-edge facilities that support computing and design-oriented curricula and pedagogy. “This is essential as technology is changing faster than ever, and industry is asking engineers to do new types of work that require increased creativity, teamwork, and collaboration across disciplines,” Dunn said. “It will also amplify our research in important areas like artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, and robotics, where emerging technologies are transforming health, construction, manufacturing, cities, and space. It will enable our faculty and student to work together with partners in industry to tackle some of society’s grand challenges.”
To date, innovation districts have advanced dozens of global cities across the U.S., including Boston, Philadelphia, and Atlanta. Prioritizing place-making and sustainable, mixed-use development, CU Denver’s innovation district will leverage blended spaces that encourage creative thinking, nurture living laboratories, power the future of discovery, and advance equity in computing.
As the anchor of this open innovation district, the engineering, design and computing building will be an “integrated catalyst,” Anthony Graves, managing director of partnerships and innovation, said, activating unconventional partnerships and preparing students for the jobs of the future.
“People are the true focus of SmithGroup’s design process. They take pride in thinking through all elements of human-centered design, creating beautiful, sustainable spaces that support learning and placemaking,” Graves said. “The new engineering building will inspire creativity and collaboration that will set the tone for our open innovation district, because people will naturally gravitate towards the space.”
SmithGroup’s Values Align with CU Denver’s 2030 Strategic Plan
On Nov. 1, 2021, CU Denver put out a request for qualifications (RFQ) to find a design partner to assist in providing guidance on programming, architectural, engineering, and other consulting services for the building. In addition to their skillset and experience, SmithGroup exemplified immense interest for and passion in CU Denver’s engineering, design and computing building and its role in the 2030 Strategic Plan. “They bring a level of excitement to the project that parallels and amplifies the university’s,” Minter said. “They are going to dive deeply into this project with us and are 100% committed to the project’s success.”
SmithGroup is one of the world’s preeminent integrated design firms. Working across a network of 15 offices in the U.S. and China, including an office in Denver, their team is committed to excellence in strategy, design and delivery, and to creating inspiring places that enhance the environment. The firm’s areas of expertise include higher education and cultural institutions, science and technology organizations, urban environments, and diverse workplaces, among others.
“Our SmithGroup team could not be more excited to partner with CU Denver on this long-awaited flagship project,” said Mecayla Cobb, SmithGroup’s Higher Education Studio Leader in Denver and principal in charge of the project. “We look forward to designing a facility that will establish connections, foster innovation and future growth, embed sustainability and display state-of-the-art, hands-on learning for CU Denver and our surrounding community.”
Mark Kranz, vice president and design director at SmithGroup, said, “The new Engineering, Design and Computing Building at CU Denver represents a bold and pivotal strategic investment for the institution and is envisioned as a foundational catalyst for the new ‘Open Innovation District. Not only will the new facility become an iconic and symbolic platform for the university’s ambitious strategic plan, but it will also transform the student experience, the College of Engineering, Design and Computing’s curriculum, and the recruitment position for the campus internationally.”
Key Principles Will Guide Planning Process
Project leaders from JLL, CU Denver’s real estate advisory and management firm, have developed a list of guiding principles to consider at every step of the planning process—from design renderings to ground-breaking to opening day. At the forefront of all decisions are equity, accessibility, innovation, discovery, community, and flexibility. These principles will ensure the building supports and leverages the university’s five 2030 Strategic Plan goals, including becoming the first equity-serving institution in the nation.
“We are committed to building an inclusive space that is approachable and accessible to all,” Minter said.
In addition, SmithGroup has expressed a deep commitment to involving the campus and community in its planning process. Throughout the design process, the firm will host a series of town halls to share updates and gather feedback. More information will be made available to the campus community as details are finalized.
In a March design team kickoff meeting, Marks left SmithGroup representatives with a bold request: “I want you to do something bigger and better and different than anyone has done before,” she said.