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A rendering of Cordley Hall's south entrance

A science building for the 21st century: Cordley Hall to undergo renovation

By Cari Longman

All renderings courtesy of Hennebery Eddy Architects.

Exterior rendering of the future south entrance of Cordley Hall

Cordley Hall, an atomic-era building – built in two phases between 1956 and 1965 – will undergo a four-year renovation beginning in June 2020 that will transform it into a learning and research space for the 21st century.

Oregon State University’s Department of Integrative Biology is the fourth-largest major on campus, with more than 1,200 students. Additionally, one-third of the entire undergraduate student body takes the Introductory Biology series as part of their Baccalaureate Core requirements. Despite these numbers, many of these students will never step foot in Cordley Hall – the academic home of the Integrative Biology and Botany and Plant Pathology departments – instead completing their laboratory work in other buildings on campus due to space constraints in Cordley Hall.

In an effort that lays the groundwork for the future, the two departments have collaborated to generate a collective vision for a new Cordley Hall that will provide transformational education that is accessible to students, builds a sense of community and provides state-of-the-art spaces for biology research into the future.

A rendering of a hallway and lab entrance within Cordley Hall

A rendering of a hallway and lab entrance within Cordley Hall. The renovations will include modular laboratory layouts that promote flexibility and the ability to adapt to future research needs.

A building past its prime

Science, research and teaching styles have changed dramatically since the mid-20th century. The Integrative Biology Department has pioneered new, innovative pedagogy, such as the Learning Assistants program, that emphasizes active learning techniques to engage students more deeply in subjects. Biology class lectures take place in the state-of-the-art classroom in the round in the Learning Innovation Center, taking full advantage of technology and the latest in teaching theory. Yet Cordley Hall currently embodies many of the outdated ideas of the last century and no longer meets the needs of the students and researchers who use it each year.

“This place is like a fortress,” said Bob Mason, the Sandy and Elva Sanders Eminent Professor in the Integrative Biology Department. “You go down the halls, and it’s just a long hallway with doors and more doors, and they’re always closed. There’s no collaborative space at all. It’s not very inviting.”

The renovation project will provide modernized, updated infrastructure to the 236,000-square-foot building, improving its life safety systems by adding fire alarms and sprinklers, and upgrading the HVAC system. The electrical and plumbing systems, largely still original to the building and prone to failures, will also be upgraded along with new exterior windows and improved accessibility of Cordley Hall’s restrooms and hallways. Modular laboratory layouts and embedded design flexibility will correct many of the structural limitations in the current building.

A rendering of a hallway featuring special collections displays in the new Cordley Hall

Cordley Hall is home to two natural history collections: The Herbarium and the Oregon State Arthropod Collection. The renovations will allow these collections to be more prominently displayed, engaging students and the public who visit the building.

Bringing the pieces back together

The new Cordley Hall will also have expanded lab spaces to accommodate the thousands of students each term who take courses through the two departments. The Introductory Biology series is foundational for many students – both biology majors and non-majors seeking future degrees in health professions — but the labs for these courses are currently in Weniger Hall. The renovated building will host all labs for this course series. “Both departments contribute to that course so it makes sense that it would be here,” said Virginia Weis, Distinguished Professor and head of the Integrative Biology Department.

It will also add additional lab space for the Human Anatomy and Physiology classes, which see thousands of students each year. “Those are the future doctors, nurses, physical therapists, all of these pre-health students – not necessarily from biology – taking these courses,” said Weis. Biology boasts the largest percentage of pre-medical students at the university.

The aim in bringing these lab courses back to Cordley is to create a welcoming, attractive academic home for the thousands of students they service each term. All classroom and lab spaces will be focused on the first two floors, improving access and efficiency in the current building’s layout and reducing long-term maintenance costs by restricting wear and tear to the building. Collaboration spaces throughout the building – focusing on the first two floors – will provide venues for students to gather, study or relax between classes and interact with faculty.

The second floor will also be home to two natural history collections that are housed in Cordley Hall: The Herbarium, which boasts more than half a million species of plants, fungi, lichens and algae from the Pacific Northwest and around the world, and the Oregon State Arthropod Collection, home to the region’s largest entomological research collection with a history extending back to the 1800s. The new building will increase the impact of these assets, displaying each in attractive cases on the second floor and engaging the public and students who visit the building. “There’s value in showing the collections to students and the public,” added Weis.

Offices for student advisors, departmental offices, and event spaces will be located on the second floor, accessible via elevator or highly visible staircases, providing students with convenient access to better integrate into the community of biologists. The third through fifth floors will hold additional staff offices, smaller research spaces and storage.

The new modular design promotes flexibility and the ability to adapt to future research needs. The two departments will share laboratory and support spaces like freezers and incubators, resulting in a more resilient building that is responsive to current and projected future needs.

A rendering of the future lobby in Cordley Hall

A rendering of the lobby in Cordley Hall. The renovations will include collaborative spaces throughout the building that will provide venues for students to gather, study or relax between classes and interact with faculty.

A long road to the finish

The planning process for Cordley Hall’s renewal began in 2017 when the Infrastructure Working Group, established in 2016 to recommend and rate infrastructure projects to the Board of Trustees and university leadership, named Cordley Hall its top priority.

The first step to the multi-year project was to find an overflow space to hold the researchers and their labs while renovations take place. In June 2018, OSU purchased an existing research building on Research Way off-campus to serve as a new STEM building. The building is undergoing renovations to ensure it meets the needs of each department while work on Cordley takes place. The renovations at Cordley Hall will be a two-part process. The half of the building that currently houses the botany department will be renovated first. The latter will be headquartered at the new Research Way building for two years, then will move back into the newly renovated half of Cordley. Integrative Biology will follow the same process, moving into the fully renovated Cordley Hall by 2024.

The renewal project has already begun. In the summer of 2017, Cordley Hall’s roof was replaced. In addition to the new roof, eight inches of insulation was added to help save energy by keeping warm air in or out, depending on the season. The project was completed on time and under budget – a good start to the years-long overhaul.

“It’s been an interesting exercise to think about the future,” said Weis, reflecting on the multi-year process to get ready for Cordley Hall’s renovation. “But that hard work is over. The hard work left is the moves!”

When asked if there was a design element that did not make it into the final plans, Weis nodded. The architects and faculty planning team aspired to cover the existing courtyard in the center of the building with a glass roof, creating a light and plant-filled climate-controlled atrium to welcome visitors and be a centerpiece of the building design. “We even had a name for it: the ‘Bioasis,’ but we just didn’t have the money. At the end of the day, we have to live within our means,” added Weis.

While the plan for a full bioasis is tabled, Weis still hopes the departments, working with the OSU Foundation, can raise funds to enclose half the space. “We might have a partial atrium where we can host events and provide space for students to study, relax and connect.”

When it is completed in 2024, a renovated Cordley Hall will encourage collaboration, innovation and expanded realms of research. It will be a welcoming and inviting space, providing an academic home to students and researchers. The open layout with built-in social spaces will foster the interactions that inspire creativity and innovation. “The new building is going to change the dynamic of what goes on here,” added Mason.