MSU Unveils Med School Design

October 26, 2007
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\GRAND RAPIDS — When Dean Marsha Rappley set eyes on the final design for the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine Secchia Center, she was “thrilled.” As designed, it’s truly a signature building — just as MSU President Mary Lou Simon promised it would be, she said. MSU is unveiling renderings of the new building this morning.

Ellenzweig Associates of Cambridge, Mass., is the building’s architect. Rappley personally knows the deans of two other medical schools that were designed by Ellenzweig who were delighted by the firm’s work. She and other MSU officials personally toured the two med schools and hired Ellenzweig because of its depth of experience in designing medical education facilities, she said.

The $90 million, seven-story building will boast 180,000 square feet of state-of-the art medical education space. The next phase includes construction bids will go out and the final construction budget will be set in early 2008. Construction of the Secchia Center will begin in spring 2008 and will be completed in the fall of 2010, according to the university.

“The major challenge was that the seven stories of the medical school building sit on top of a parking deck, and we didn’t want it to look chunky and awkward,” Rappley said. “That was a challenge for the architect, and what they created is a really elegant building.”

That was certainly the principal challenge in the outside design of the building, agreed Ellenzweig Architect Michael Lauber. The challenge, he said, was trying to design a building that looked like and institutional, academic building even though it was built on top of a parking garage. He and his colleagues were interested in avoiding the appearance of a parking garage with a building on top, he said.

“We wanted to create an integrated design so it would look like one building instead of two buildings,” Lauder remarked. “We think the building does hang together as one integrated 12-story building even though the medical school is only seven stories. I think on the outside we’ve managed to create a design that is both interesting and in some ways dramatic.”

Lauber said the second challenge was making all seven floors hang together. The firm accomplished that by designing atrium spaces that connect levels one through four and levels five and six.

There were three major objectives in the design of the facility. One was to create a real signature building on the downtown Grand Rapids skyline. Lauber said that with all the new buildings on Michigan Street hill and more going up, the hill is an area of very distinguished architecture.

“We wanted to make sure that the new building had a signature presence and by the same token we wanted to make sure it was ‘sympathetic’ to the local environment and the other buildings in the Michigan Street Development,” Lauber explained.

In terms of the building’s internal design, the goal was to incorporate the very latest in med school technology, he said. The most complicated piece of the whole puzzle was all the computer technology the building required to allow real time connection and communication with the mother ship in East Lansing and ready access to colleges both here and there, Lauber said.

The third goal was to create “a community of learners” by designing space that members of the community would feel comfortable in. MSU asked the firm to create space on the first floor that would be oriented towards the needs of teaching 100 medical students but would also be a place where the community would feel welcomed in, Rappley said. That space, she said, will also be available for medical-related events and public presentations.

The building will have a clinical skill areas where medical students interact with human “actor” patients, as well as simulation areas with “simulated” patients that are actually robotic medical mannequins that are geared to exhibit all kinds of symptoms.

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