Underutilized Space Is Transformed into Training and Testing Center for a Medical School

auditorium, Washington University, KWK Architects

Construction is complete on a project to renovate two underutilized auditoriums and vacant space at Washington University School of Medicine (WUSM) in St. Louis into a Training and Testing Center that supports the Medical School’s new mission and active learning curriculum. KWK Architects was the designer on the transformative project.

Cori and Erlanger Auditoriums, which were underutilized due to their age and outdated design for current teaching methods, are located on the first floor of the school’s McDonald Science Building, designed in 1960. Named for the distinguished Nobel Prize-winning WUSM faculty Joseph Erlanger and Gerty Cori and her husband Carl, the auditoriums still functioned as lecture halls before the renovations. 

Construction is complete on a project to renovate two underutilized auditoriums and vacant space at Washington University School of Medicine (WUSM) in St. Louis into a Training and Testing Center that supports the Medical School’s new mission and active learning curriculum.

In addition to the two auditoriums’ reconfiguration, a testing center for medical education was also designed in the building’s vacant space after relocating the admissions office to the North Building on campus and student services to Becker Library. The ground floor access and central location made it a prime location for the Medical School’s new Training and Testing Center. 

“The university’s teaching pedagogy has shifted from a stand-and-deliver approach of the past to a more collaborative, interactive teaching method, as evident in the design renovations for the vacant space and two auditoriums,” says KWK Architects Principal Eric Neuner.

KWK designed the vacant space into an 85-seat testing room for medical students, which could also be used as seminar and lecture space for all departments. KWK acoustically engineered the area to eliminate sounds from the corridor and adjacent auditoriums. The interior was passively reinforced with built-in reflectors and diffusive shapes to help strengthen speech. The space also provides multiple video screens for lecture functions and splitting the room up into workgroups as needed.

To create fully accessible and flexible active learning classrooms in the auditoriums, infilling the existing slopes and reconfiguring the room shapes was required. Structurally engineered, cold-formed framing supports were installed with a lightweight concrete topping to provide the floor infill. The interstitial space was lined with insulation to help reduce sound transmission during construction and final use. 

“This had to be done carefully since the basement below the spaces housed existing laboratories which were operational throughout the construction process,” says KWK Project Manager Bob Buckman.   

Cori Auditorium, the larger of the two auditoriums, takes advantage of existing windows to connect the occupants to the exterior. Two new windows were installed in Erlanger Auditorium to give the interior a connection to the outdoor courtyard.

“What was once a dark, antiquated auditorium is now an open, well-lit space both naturally and artificially. The renovated spaces are now ready to serve the medical school for the next 50 years,” says Neuner.

Tables and chairs on casters were specified for each new classroom (138 seats in Cori and 105 seats in Erlanger) to provide flexibility in configuration. Motorized shades and dimmable lighting were also selected for multi-use functionality in each space. The Medical School’s logo was added as a wall graphic to each classroom to reinforce its branding. 

AVI Systems of St. Louis provided the design for the center’s new AV systems, which include a 3- by 3-foot video wall interconnected to 96-inch screens placed throughout each classroom. The education component is supported by active sound reinforcement and built-in cameras for online learning. 

“Screens were placed in careful planning with the furniture to ensure good sightlines with writable wall surfaces. Each smaller breakout area can share their screens with the video wall for interactive learning,” says Buckman.

The project team also included SSC Engineering, Bell Electrical, C&R Mechanical, Dynamic Controls, and Engineered Fire Protection. The general contractor on the project was BSI Constructors and Interface Construction. Construction on the project was completed in August 2020.

In 2015, Washington University School of Medicine hired KWK Architects to develop a phase one-campus plan. The Building Connections plan included vital mission areas, such as Medical Education, led by Neuner. KWK facilitated a detailed review of the Medical Education Program with key leaders of the Medical School. The team analyzed which departments needed to be adjacent to each other, where the different departments made sense on campus, and which departments could share what spaces, if any. Gaining a thorough understanding of just how the School of Medicine utilized its existing space was a crucial step in the process. 

Since the master plan’s completion in 2015, KWK has worked on over 40 design and study projects on the School of Medicine Campus. These include projects outlined in the master plan and additional enabling projects that have helped support campus growth and recruitment activities. 

“The projects just completed by KWK were the final phase of the 2015 Phase One Education Renovation Plan. We are excited to see the full plan come to fruition and are eager for the campus to use and experience these exciting spaces,” says Melissa Rockwell Hopkins, assistant vice chancellor of Operations Facilities with the School of Medicine.

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