The retaining wall is a reinforced concrete design and is part of the foundation of the building.
Structural services combined with site development permitting, construction engineering, and a variety of well-known sub-consultants, can provide you with a complete start-to-finish design solution. As sustainability continues to take hold in the architectural profession, the most desirable projects enable designers to express green features, making them educational devices to the clients and users. The selection of Ross Barney Architects for this commission was procured following the State of Minnesota’s normal selection procedures. Because Ross Barney Architects works almost exclusively in the public sector, our design process has evolved to extract the maximum value from the ideas of a sometimes large and disparate group of users. To work effectively in these common interest areas, We as the architect need to be able to listen and speak in the languages of our design partners and not just the language of architect and architecture.
Design workshops and charrettes were conducted with the stakeholders and consultants to review and validate the goals and objectives of the project. Main façade showing scuppers, French drain tubs, and corten steel and precast concrete cladding. Precast concrete clads structural lab and support bars are left in place to show how the building was constructed. In designing the Civil Engineering Building at the University of Minnesota Duluth, the project team was charged with the task of incorporating the numerous programmatic and equipment requirements in order to enhance the educational function of the building.
Since the Civil Engineering program was new to the University, key stakeholders such as the program head and professors were not yet in place during the design process to provide their unique expertise and input. The program requirements for both the structural and hydraulics laboratories included two 15-ton gantry cranes to move heavy experiments in and out of the building and between these spaces.
The program for the structural laboratory also included a strong wall and strong floor system.
How does the building compare to other projects in your office, be it the same or other building types?
How does the building relate to contemporary architectural trends, be it sustainability, technology, etc.?
In addition to the challenges presented by the programmatic and equipment requirements of the building, the University requested that the project team design and construct a building that would achieve a LEED Silver certification. There were many unique features of the UMD Swenson Civil Engineering building, mostly due to its end use as a civil engineering University building.
Designed to display the building systems as a pedagogical tool, the building showcases the structural, and mechanical systems as well as stormwater management techniques.
In designing the building HVAC systems, the unique requirements of each space were taken into account in order to provide the most efficient and cost-effective solution. The oversized scuppers serve a functional role in preventing rainwater from overflowing the storm sewer system and causing environmental damage to the local stream beds. The structural laboratory houses one of the only local strong wall and strong floor systems.
Throughout the course of our practice, Ross Barney Architects have capitalized on lessons learned on previous projects and have applied that knowledge to subsequent projects.
Chicago firm Ross Barney Architects has done such a thing to great effect at the University of Minnesota in Duluth.
There was a public request for qualifications, a review panel shortlisted several firms and interviews were conducted. At the onset of the design process, we emphasize careful collection of data and opinion to help us make sure we are designing for true needs of the users and not the wants of individuals. Our design methodology is highly collaborative, and depended on contributions by the entire design team, and the project’s stakeholders.
This process aided in producing a continuum of possible design approaches that ranged from the most conservative or obvious to the most innovative or unusual.


As alternatives presented themselves they were tested against the objectives and goals identified in the facility program. The only exception to this was the design and final execution of the French drain stormwater management system. The program called for large pieces of equipment, including a strong wall, gantry cranes, and a hydraulic flume.
As a result, the parameters for many of the large pieces of equipment were not finalized until the program personnel were brought on board during the construction phase. To maximize the efficiency of crane movement, the two laboratories and exterior loading dock were aligned in plan. These systems enable students to test the structural capacity of various components by attaching the items to nodes within the wall and floor.
The majority of Ross Barney Architect’s practice is for public buildings for educational clients, governmental agencies, schools, libraries and transportation projects. During design and construction, the team challenged themselves to exceed the University's goals and to provide the most sustainable building possible for the client. The building materials were selected to showcase the beauty of locally available raw, natural, unaltered materials that not only provide the basis for a sustainable building product, but also serve as a teaching tool for the students within the Civil Engineering Department. The second floor houses offices and classrooms, where an underfloor air distribution system is employed.
Water is directed from the rooftop, down the scuppers, and into a trio of above ground Corten cylinders, which distribute the water into an underground French drain. Not only does the University use this as student testing facility, they also allow usage by engineering professionals in the local community that can benefit from this technology. Our building designs benefit from those that have been constructed and proven to be successful details, systems and materials.
For the Synagogue project, our team designed integrated systems and sustainable features that have lead to further explorations for other projects, including the UMD Civil Engineering. Our clients have genuine interests in expressing their facility goals and objectives balanced by the very real need to deisgn within budget and schedule. By listening, considering, analyzing and synthesizing data a maximum number of viable alternates were identified. The system consists of a gabion mattress installation that is used to cover underground water storage pipes for stormwater retention. To accomplish this, the design evolved to incorporate the major programmatic and equipment requirements while providing flexibility for future refinements. This allowed the two cranes to move in a straight run on a single set of tracks between the two laboratories and directly to the loading dock.
These nodes are equipped with sensors that record the compressive, tensile, and shear capacities of the components. Prior to implementation, all proposed changes to the project were evaluated based on their potential impact to the sustainable project goals. These materials include Corten steel, pre-cast and poured-in-place concrete, CMU, reclaimed local taconite rocks, and reclaimed wood. Structurally, the building utilizes precast concrete walls, precast hollowcore floor slabs, and steel. This system distributes air evenly through the spaces, while maintaining a high level of user controllability and providing flexibility for future space reconfigurations.
This reused greywater fills the flume in the Hydraulics Laboratory for student experiments, or gradually filters back into the hydrological system of the site. The University has realized that this open door approach is mutually beneficial, by bringing in local professionals that can offer students hands on experience and growth.
With the UMD stakeholders, the team decided where on the continuum the most likely answer for this place and time.


As construction of the French drain progressed, it became apparent that there were deficiencies in the construction of the gabion mattress cover that could not be easily or economically remediated.
The design architect, local architect of record, engineers, University, and contractor worked closely to coordinate these elements during the design phase and to incorporate the final requirements during construction.
The operation of the gantry cranes required a high level of construction precision in order to ensure access through the spaces. The operational requirements of these systems, along with changes in their requirements, again required coordination between the design and construction teams to incorporate the systems into the building. These efforts resulted in the building exceeding the original goal of Silver and achieving a LEED Gold certification. The puzzle piece precast walls of the structural lab educate that precast can be formed into any shape, while still forming together in a unique pattern offering slot windows throughout the finished concrete box.
In addition to the French drain, a number of other stormwater retention strategies were employed, including; an intensive green roof over 30% of the total roof area, rain gardens with non-irrigated native plantings, and permeable pavers. The new facility and civil engineering program will bridge the gap in the Duluth market on locally educated civil engineers, a dire need in a state with many infrastructure shortcomings.
With a commitment to the selected alternative, the design excellence was much easier to accomplish. At the client's request, the French drain cover was removed and redesigned by the design team.
Since the selection of the gantry cranes was finalized by the client midway through the construction process, the integration of the cranes required a concerted effort by the project team to make small adjustments to the original design as dictated by the final equipment parameters. One key design decision was to use natural Corten steel as the building cladding and in interior spaces, rather than the specified pre-weathered Corten steel. The south wall of the space retains the exterior tilt-up braces and kickers that are used as temporary supports during the construction process to feature the process of this construction. In these areas, a thermal displacement ventilation system conditions the lower six feet of the spaces through stratification, enhancing the overall efficiency of the system.
Through the combination of greywater reuse and the implementation of low-flow restroom fixtures, a 56% reduction in water usage was achieved.
By working in this common area, the design can be pursued with conviction and enthusiasm by all stakeholders.
The redesigned installation maintains the stormwater retention capabilities of the original system while providing the ancillary benefit of additional site area for native plantings. This change resulted in the building staying true to its core concept of natural materials and saved the Owner a significant amount of money. The introduction of conditioned air from below, freed the upper areas of these high-bay spaces for the incorporation of large clerestory windows and skylights. The electrical motors and structural support members for the exterior bi-fold door were redesigned during construction to reconcile incorrect information provided by the manufacturer during design that reduced the vertical clearance of the door and prevented movement of the cranes to the exterior. The natural Corten steel weathered to the desired patina within a matter of months, and the interior Corten steel retains its original appearance, furthering the education of the properties of this material.
The displacement system diffusers and ducts are left exposed to view from the hydraulics lab, as well as the large central staircase and second floor above. Since the precast concrete panels enclosing the structural laboratory were already in place, the structural engineer was required to develop a solution that maintained the clearance requirements for the cranes without altering the design intent.
Through the integration of architectural and mechanical systems, a modeled overall energy savings of 35% over a comparable base building was achieved.



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