Michigan Technological University Great Lakes Research Center

New construction: Michigan Technological University Great Lakes Research Center; Fishbeck, Thompson, Carr and Huber Inc. (FTC+H)


Great Lakes Research CenterProject name: Michigan Technological University Great Lakes Research Center

Location: Houghton, Mich.

Firm name: Fishbeck, Thompson, Carr and Huber Inc. (FTC+H)

Project type, building type: New construction, school (college, university)

Project duration: 3 years

Project completion date: May 1, 2012

Project budget for mechanical, electrical, plumbing, fire protection engineering only: $9 million

Engineering challenges

Michigan Technical University (MTU) wanted a new campus facility to house aquatic research laboratories and classrooms, and support researchers and students working with Great Lakes biological, Top viewchemical, and physical studies. The facility needed to be designed and equipped in support of instruction, experimental laboratories, and outreach efforts. The research center is a 55,000-sq-ft, multistory research laboratory facility. The three-story laboratory block (plus service basement and penthouse) is surrounded by offices, conference rooms, and other support spaces. A 100-seat meeting room, connected to a large pre-function space and public lobby overlooking the water, provides attractive meeting space for outreach to students and the community. Dedicated space is located at the main level to house the significant computer resources necessary for the complex research functions. An attached building and marina provide off-season storage and maintenance of university research boats, as well as docking for loading and unloading the boats.

The project site is small and bordered by a campus road and ground-level utility structures on two sides, and a major waterway on the other two sides; imposing constraints that challenged the building placement and accommodation of the necessary site access. Compounding these challenges were the needs to provide access to the water, yet provide a front building entrance from a higher grade Site (Click to enlarge)than the water.


As the first research and academic building in this preexisting service area of campus, the building needed to blend with campus architecture, speak to its function, stand adjacent to the utility and service buildings, create a new waterfront face of campus, and lay the groundwork for future academic development in this campus area, all in a part of Michigan famous for its cold climate and snow. The site plan creatively circulates traffic and raises the building’s main level in a successful compromise between ground floor height and barrier-free access to the main entrance.

The building envelope utilizes combinations of brick, cast stone, metal panel, and blue-tinted curtain wall in straight and curved lines to provide an attractive visual bridge between existing academic and service building architecture, while reinforcing the functional connection to the water. High-performance glazing, insulated metal Waterfront (Click to enlarge)panels, and spray-applied wall insulation comprise the energy-efficient envelope. The mechanical design for the facility utilizes a unique system that draws hot water from a heat exchanger/economizer placed in a boiler stack of the nearby campus central heating plant. This heat, which would otherwise be wasted in the boiler stack, is utilized for the majority of heating equipment in the building. Boilers provided higher temperature water for radiant floor heating in selected areas. The design included the addition of a university data center to the project. The data center will house servers that provide system redundancy to the university, as well as high-powered research computing for the facility, in a configuration permitting future upgrades to a Tier 3 design.

State funding requirements required adherence to minimum building floor area efficiencies, whereas the university’s desire for design flexibility tended to add service space. The building’s computer center also demanded a significant amount of support space to maintain tight operating temperature ranges year-round. The building floor plans successfully balance all those needs and accommodating features, such as a central laboratory service shaft, enabling the university to adapt the building to changing research needs. FTC+H also developed the programming statement and schematic design package for submittal to the State of Michigan as part of the state funding of the project, through the Capital Outlay program.

Additional Information 

View a presentation from FTC+H on the project

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