Bill and Melinda Gates Computer Science Complex
Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects
Austin, TX, USA
Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects
Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects (Design Architect)
University of Texas at Austin
Requirements for the new building included teaching, research, and administrative spaces that would bring together in one location all of the department’s 60 faculty, 1,400 undergraduate students, 250 graduate students and 50 staff activities. To allow for further growth, the new building required capacity for a 40 percent increase in faculty and 50 percent increase in computer science students. The department also required a large central space for special functions as well as informal gatherings. The atrium meets this directive. Flanked by two courtyards, the atrium has five stepped levels with terraces shaded by vine-covered trellises. To contrast the atrium’s glass exterior, the interior walls, ceiling and stair are wrapped in Douglas fir panels. Columns of exposed concrete, made with locally-sourced limestone, order the space. Architecturally, the building had to create a strong identity for the department, yet harmonize with UT’s campus. UT’s core buildings include works by Paul Cret and Cass Gilbert and adhere mainly to the Spanish Mediterranean style. For the Gates Complex, Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects responded to this architectural language, but took a contemporary approach. Like core UT buildings, the two wings of the Gates Complex have a base of cast limestone, a midsection of Texas brick, a glass top, and a roof with deep overhangs. The masonry’s ribbed and banded texture recalls an adjacent building, but its stack-bond pattern and the large amount of glass—50 percent of the façade— is an example of this more contemporary spirit.
As part of a plan to raise the national standing of its top-10 ranked Computer Science Department, UT sought a new home for the department that would be a significant recruitment tool. The department had formerly been distributed among six buildings and lacked a central gathering place. The Gates Complex is located on the site of the department’s former main building, a 1930s classroom building. Studies concluded that the building could not be adequately expanded to serve a growing department.
The Gates Complex successfully accommodates all of the department’s programs and people, balancing its primary activities of teaching and research. To encourage the sharing of ideas and to connect faculty and students with common interests, the building is arranged in 10 research clusters. Each cluster has two glassed-in laboratories surrounded by faculty, graduate student, visitor and administrative offices, several open discussion areas, technical support spaces and a large conference room. This grouping is designed to encourage discussion and collaboration and to expose undergraduates to research. The atrium is a well-used space both for special events and everyday activities like studying and socializing. A passageway as well as the social center of the complex, the atrium bustles with people traveling between the two buildings across wide bridges. Study lounges on the bridges are often full and a ground-floor espresso bar encourages the building’s users to linger. The Gates Complex addresses both an important campus road and the interior campus. The complex links to campus architecturally through a shared materials and wings that approximate the scale of surrounding buildings. It also physically links to the adjacent science building. The courtyard continues UT’s tradition of shaded outdoor spaces and extends the use of the atrium.