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Construction completed on classroom/dorm combo building on Worcester Polytechnic’s campus

The latest addition embodies the school’s emphasis on collaborative problem-solving.

February 23, 2019 |

Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts arranges is academic year around concentrated terms that provide its students the opportunity to hone skills for real-life work. Image: Robert Benson Photography

Late last month, construction was completed on the $47.7 million Foisie Innovation Studio and Messenger Residence Hall on the campus of Worcester (Mass.) Polytechnic Institute.

The 78,000-sf residential and classroom facility was funded through an alumni-led campaign that raised more than $18 million. The building is named after Robert Foisie and Priscilla and George Messenger Jr., who were instrumental in raising money for student scholarships.

The three-floor residence hall, with 140 beds in single and double rooms, sits atop the two-floor innovation studio that is intended for student project work. It includes a variety of academic spaces that range from high-tech classrooms to an innovation and entrepreneur center. There’s also a robotics and “global impact” lab, makerspace, technology suites, and business incubators.

The building is the embodiment of “the modern WPI plan,” according to the Institute’s President Laurie Leshin. That plan, which was launched in 1970, revolves around a project-oriented curriculum that blends classroom learning with hands-on, real-world experience.

Instead of semesters, WPI’s academic year consists of four seven-week terms, during which students take three courses per term that emphasize collaboration. Students select the courses they take, and WPI has eliminated failing grades so that students can focus on learning and teamwork instead of competition. First-year students can opt for a two-term Great Problems Seminar that explores topics such as public health and security, and devises potential solutions. The curriculum offers an Interactive Qualifying Project, which allows students to engage in sponsored projects. A significant portion of senior year is devoted to the Major Qualifying Project, often completed with corporate sponsors, where students demonstrate their research, design, and problem-solving skills.

“The driving force behind this project was a need to create a space that helps spark new opportunities and drive student innovation. Our team’s expertise allowed for continued construction over a two-year period, without disturbing the busy campus setting,” said Ron Simoneau, vice president at Shawmut Design and Construction, which completed this project in collaboration with Gensler, which worked with Arup on the building’s design. (On its website, Arup points out that several of its staff members are WPI alumni.)

The Building Team broke ground in May 2016 and WPI held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the building’s opening last fall.

Different spaces within the building are named after numerous university benefactors.

The 78,000-sf building is targeting LEED Gold certification. Image: Robert Benson Photography


The building is targeting LEED Gold certification. Daylight is optimized with the installation of a very low 0.48 watts-sf lighting power density system (56% below the lighting code’s baseline). The project team also designed this facility for an almost 50% reduction in energy costs, partly by creating as building envelope for which insulation exceeded the prescriptive code value. Demand-controlled ventilation in academic areas and ducted fresh air into the dorm produce higher air quality.

By using drip irrigation and plants that require less water, the building’s outdoor area is targeting a reduction in its potable water use for landscape by 54%.

A large stairwell doubles as a meeting place inside the building. Image: Robert Benson Photography


Shawmut’s work on WPI’s Foisie Innovation Studio and Messenger Residence Hall represents the latest in the firm’s academic portfolio, with current projects at Harvard University, Tufts University, and Brown University.

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