SLAM is thrilled to celebrate the opening of the Fertitta College of Medicine Building at the University of Houston! This 125,000 GSF building represents thousands of hours of creative work and coordination across an integrated design team – including SLAM, our local partner and Architect of Record, Page, as well Construction Manager Vaughn Construction. The facility boasts state of the art learning environments including classrooms, immersive learning spaces, faculty and staff offices, as well as student study and social lounges. Below are some features of the building and the design process that are worth a second glance.
Sustainability was very important both to UH and to the SLAM/Page team throughout the design of this building. As part of the effort to make this project as sustainable as possible, we used wood from trees that had to be removed as part of the site clearing to make custom elements for the space. When you enter the lobby, you can stop at the Greeter Desk to orient yourself to other spaces in the building. This was constructed using oak boards entirely reclaimed from the site. The desk in the Information Commons was also a custom design made using reclaimed wood. These desks serve as information hubs for anyone using the space and bring in warmth through their natural materials.
The reclaimed wood reception desk in the lobby stands in front of a three-story, back-painted glass red wall that houses the building’s elevators.
The “Information Commons” is where students can connect with educational support and access technology resources.
Students using the Fertitta College of Medicine Building are encouraged to make use of the two small student lounges located on both the first and second floor of the building. These rooms are purposefully minimal, with only a bench made from wood taken from the building site in each for students to lounge on and take a moment to regroup when needed. Both of these lounge areas have views of the incredible nature that surrounds the building. This area is home to some unique wildlife, including a bald eagle so when classwork or clinicals get too stressful, these spaces offer soothing views to decompress.
Small student lounges designed for reflection and contemplation have views towards nature.
The last space that makes use of reclaimed site wood is the Board Room used by the Dean and his staff. This room has a few special features, the most eye-catching being the twenty-six-foot-long table with the iconic UH red backdrop. This is a live-edge table, fully designed by the SLAM team. It integrates technology to make this room easy to use, but all those pesky cords and connections are hidden so the woodgrain and raw edges shine.
The showstopping live edge board room table was designed by SLAM and fabricated by ISEC, Inc.
The process to make these reclaimed wood elements took quite a while. Once the wood was cut, the fabricator selected pieces that would work best for our designs, and then the wood had to sit and dry for months before it could be made into useable items. There were many meetings had and sketches drawn to get these pieces built, but the effort was entirely worth it to create these show-stopping pieces that honor the land our building sits on.
The second floor is home to the first of its kind “Sky Box Team-Based Learning Lecture Hall” – the lower portion of the space can seat 128 learners at traditional rows for a lecture or guest speaker, and the room also supports a quick transition to team-based learning. Each tier includes two rows – one as a continuous counter and one a fixed table that supports 8 people. This allows learners at the counter to turn around a join a team for active learning without any room reconfiguration required. Four seminar rooms serve as a balcony level to the lecture hall and allow for an additional 50 people to view into the lecture hall during a lecture or event. Audio can be directly streamed to speakers within the seminar rooms, offering a “sky box” experience for additional attendees.
The wood slat ceilings in the lecture hall continue into the sky box seminar rooms above, creating a sense of one cohesive volume. Windows throughout provide wellbeing through access to natural light.
Seminar “sky boxes” provide a view learning in action and can even serve as a “VIP Suite” for special events. Audio and video link these rooms to the lecture hall below.
The state-of-the-art Simulation Center, located on the second floor, is home to clinical skills exam rooms and simulated hospital rooms. Students use the clinical skills exam rooms to meet with “standardized patients” – actors who are provided a patient profile including symptoms, mannerisms, and personality features. They provide students with an objective clinical experience to practice navigating the science and art of patient care. The large “Sim Flex” room is designed to serve a variety of acute care simulations including trauma, operating room, and intensive care scenarios.
If you didn’t know you were in the Ferttita College of Medicine, you would think you were in your own doctor’s office when you enter the clinical skills exam suite.
The Sim Flex Lab puts learning on display and provides a hospital setting for training, including a care provider station, scrub sinks, and sim hospital rooms. Each space has a control room for observation.
The multi-story lobby of the building provides a warm welcome to students, faculty, staff and visitors. Over the entry doors is a two-story custom art piece designed by artist Leo Villareal who has designed light sculptures globally including at the Musuem of Modern Art in New York City and Illuminated River along the River Thames in London, UK. Villareal’s piece at UH is made up of nearly four thousand LED bulbs driven by software that varies the speed, scale, and illumination of the piece over time, creating an ephemeral and dynamic viewing experience.
The light sculpture activates the multi-story lobby and shades the space from harsh western sun. A grand stair connects all three stories and encourages building occupants to walk rather than take the elevator. Each time you view the light sculpture, you will see a different scene. Lights and mirrors create an always-changing backdrop that especially shines in the evening hours.
It takes years for a building to go from concept to reality, and the Fertitta College of Medicine is no exception. Programming and design meetings for the building began in early 2019, and no one could have predicted what was to come. The project was in the Design Development phase in March of 2020 when everyone was asked to work from home for a few weeks to “flatten the curve” of the spread of Covid-19. In reality, the remainder of the design phase and much of construction would happen within the “new normal” of Zoom meetings, supply chain challenges, and limited travel. While now a virtual meeting is common, this building was one of SLAM’s first to go through the entire Construction Documentation phase with only virtual meetings. The SLAM team, based in Connecticut, collaborated virtually with our partners at Page Architects in Houston along with Vaughn Construction to document, coordinate, and bring the complete building to fruition.