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UW’s Center for Population Health Employs Savvy Design Build Process, Completes Ahead of Schedule and Under Budget

University of Washington, Miller Hull Partnership, Seattle, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Courtesy of Kevin Scott

By Meghan Hall

Time is money. In the commercial real estate and construction industries, perhaps no phrase holds truer. For the project team tackling the design and construction for the University of Washington’s new Hans Rosling Center for Population Health, meeting these two criteria were key to creating a space where the university’s school of Public Health, Department of Global Health and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation could come together.  While the planning and build-out of the project has been underway since 2017, the completion of the building and the move-in of its occupants has become increasingly critical in a world mired by COVID-19.

“I think [under these circumstances] you really see how prescient President Cauce and Bill and Melinda were because…they saw the interrelatedness of health issues much earlier than the rest of us,” explained Ruth Baleiko, Partner with the Miller Hull Partnership, the architecture firm that helped to spearhead the design of the project. “Their vision was bringing together all of the players that were necessary to solve population health. At this point, we can’t just have health practitioners and researchers and data analysts working alone. You also need economists; we need social workers; we need policy experts.”

Baleiko continued, stating, “They put a flag in the sand for a place where everyone else was also invited to participate.”

The project team also included Lease Crutcher Lewis as a design build partner, and Site Workshop as the development’s landscape architect, among many others.

In order to accommodate such a diverse workforce, the 300,000 square foot building features a variety of different spaces. In order to make these spaces flexible and welcoming to all, Miller Hull and the project team stuck to curating just a few different space types. For example, meeting rooms were sized the same size as some of the offices, open work spaces could also be used for “frequent flyer” employees or as collaboration areas.

“If we take all of the ideas people give us and execute them like a shopping list, you kind of have a hot mess, architecturally,” said Baleiko. “Our job is to listen and draw out the commonalities and to be thinking about how we can start creating a simpler set of built parts that satisfy many things.”

The shared spaces and open concept spaces are made of modules, making them easily adaptable and able to accommodate the changing staffing needs of different divisions.

Courtesy of Kevin Scott

The building features a multi-story reception area that can serve as casual meeting spaces, while floors three through eight are dedicated to research, data analysis and the creation of public health initiatives.  

The exterior of the building, while mostly modern, also works to balance the two very different architectural concepts located on either side of the development. To the East is the University of Washington’s Historic Campus. To the West, recent up-zones have are expected to lead to modern tower construction and metropolitan development. In order to blend these two different architectural contexts, dramatic glass fins were utilized on the West side of the building, providing a sense of modernity as well as solar shading for the building’s tenants. On the East, a more mellow palette of materials was used pre-cast panels to match neighboring buildings. Smaller fins provide shade in the morning but blend more subtly with the building’s surroundings.

“The university really places a lot of value on the built environment and how they make choices on their architectural investments…but you’ll notice it is not a campus with a strict set of design guidelines,” noted Baleiko. “…They want a building that is a good team player but also feels of its time.”

The project was made possible via a $210 million gift from The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, as well as $15 million in funding from the Washington State Legislature. However, the grants the project received stipulated the project be completed within a certain time frame, adding an additional challenge to the entitlements and construction process. The development team employed a few techniques, including a design build method, in order to streamline the process. Miller Hull and others broke the project into 14 different permits, working concurrently on multiple aspects of the project to get things approved.

The project team’s methods paid off. Construction was underway in less than 10 months and finished faster than anticipated, with the project reaching completion in the fall of 2020. The project was also $6.5 million under budget, a feat typically “unheard of,” according to Miller Hull.

“I think this project was not short on aspiration or pioneering goals…The university and the Gates Foundation really wanted to make this initiative the signature move of the university and their role in solving population health globally,” said Baleiko. “…The university was really eager to demonstrate that they could deliver projects more nimbly and bring in the value of the private sector by setting up a delivery model that…incentivized different behaviors.”