Education + Science

UMN Shepherd Laboratories

01 10
University of Minnesota
BWBR Architects
Construction Manager, Construction Manager at Risk
Minneapolis, Minnesota
22,350 SF

This project turned a once-drab 1970s-era building into an airy and naturally lit home for the University of Minnesota’s robotics program. The project consisted of renovating three floors totaling 25,000 sq. ft., with the addition of a new exterior entrance. The project included new robotics research laboratories, solar vehicle research areas, a drone lab, teaming rooms, and conference areas. The 20,000-square-foot renovation overhauled the first and second floors of the five-story building with the goal of creating new work areas and nine flexible labs for robotics faculty and graduate students. During construction, floors three through five remained occupied with science and engineering programs.

The improvements to the laboratory spaces allow for unprecedented innovation and collaboration among students, staff, and researchers. The drone laboratory is the first of its kind on a collegiate campus. A prominent architectural feature of the project, the drone lab is an exciting addition to the University that will allow for the advancement of technology and further engagement of students and staff. The Patrick J. Starr Solar Vehicle Project Laboratory brings the university’s famous solar car project to the forefront with a new drive in workshop with glass walls along the public interior corridor allowing observers a firsthand look. Knutson employed University of Minnesota students on the project as interns allowing for a hands-on learning experience and important relationship building with project stakeholders on their own campus.


Green & Sustainability Aspects

The architect has a sustainability design goal of B3 and minimizing energy consumption was a key objective for the University. Examples of the project’s sustainable features include:

+ Controlling mechanical equipment run times and air flow

+ Using ENERGY STAR equipment

+ Using occupancy sensors and monitors on HVAC and lighting systems

+ Using individual classroom controls

+ Adding and replacing windows for energy efficiency and to utilize more natural light

+ Replacing radiant heating system to insulating the building envelope to improve efficiency

Knutson was able to divert 88.58% from landfills through recycling programs. Special considerations were made with the material selection and construction of this project to minimize the need for future renovations and rebuilding ensuring it would last for generations to come.

Unique Project Features

+ First of its kind two-story drone flying laboratory with a 35-foot tall ceiling allows for researchers to test fly drones inside the building and allows spectators to watch from the second-floor observation areas through storefront-like windows.

+ Flexible collaborative workspaces encourage innovation between user groups

+ Writable walls and movable furniture

+ Glass walls that invite observers to view ongoing research inside the laboratories and create an open feel.

Challenges and Solutions

During construction, levels 3-5 of the building were occupied by researchers. Knutson had to ensure that construction dust and debris did not encroach on the areas where research was being conducted. The team also needed to provide a clean entry/exit to the building so that dust would not track onto other floors. Noise and vibration constraints also needed to be enforced in order to not disrupt research and very sensitive equipment.

To mitigate these risks, we installed vibration sensors to ensure we were not exceeding the threshold that would negatively impact equipment and research. We also implemented a texting hotline that was communicated with flyers and newsletters placed throughout the building that so that occupants could use it to inform the crews of any cleaning concerns throughout the duration of the project.