Proj Overview

The new Foisie Innovation Studio and Messenger Residence Hall at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) is a five-story, mixed-use academic and residential building. The $49 million, 78,000 ft2 combined structure broke ground in August 2016 and is scheduled to open in early Fall 2018.

The design showcases a variety of exterior materials, including architectural precast panels, curtainwall, metal panels, and conventional masonry. But in the process the new building also showcases the ability of precast producers to customize precast concrete components to meet the specific design demands of a project.

The 41,000 ft2 Innovation Studio will take up the basement and first two floors of the structure and serve as a state-of-the-art hub for the WPI project-based approach to STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) higher education. The Studio, according to Keller Roughton, AIA, LEED AP, senior associate at Gensler, will feature a variety of academic and active learning spaces designed to foster innovation and creativity and support “multiple modes of collaborative work.”

Atop this will be the Residence Hall, a three-floor residential facility with space for 140 students. Messenger Hall will feature co-ed single and double rooms on 3 floors of living space. Each floor will feature a laundry, two tech suites and two open lounges.

Creating Custom Precast Forms
Coreslab Structures (CONN) Inc. was chosen as a team member to provide the architectural precast concrete cladding for the building due to the firm’s extensive panelization and formwork experience. For the studio and residence hall the firm provided 38 pieces or 5,822 square feet of architectural precast concrete panels.

The uninsulated precast panels are mostly slender, vertical pieces in a horizontal, stacked-panel design, according to Rob Del Vento, Coreslab VP and General Manager. Typical panels are 5-to-6 ft in width and 27 ft tall. Others measure 12 ft by 16 ft. In addition, there are precast spandrels at the 3rd floor roof line. The panels are 6-1/2 inches thick, un-insulated with formliner and reveal patterns. Spray foam insulation is being added to the back of the panels on site.

Coreslab produced custom polyurethane form liners for the project. The panels were cast horizontally, face down. The formliners, says Del Vento, add to the vertical design expression by providing a “vertical corduroy rib pattern to the panels. The pattern is very fine, only a 3/16-inch-deep line work with rounded edges.”

Architect Roughton explains the advantages of using these architectural precast panels: “We were able to adjust color and texture of the precast to work with both the surrounding building and the material palette selected for the project. The vertical ‘corduroy’ pattern was selected to reinforce the vertical detailing of the curtainwall and frit pattern on the glass.”

Precast panel installation presented several challenges, according to Del Vento. “At the third floor level there is a 20-foot cantilever overhang where the building pops out,” he explains. “We had to come up with some special rigging considerations and lifting devices to get the panels tucked up under that overhang. In addition, while the building is four-sided, we had crane access on only three sides due to the building’s location on this tight site. In addition, we had to consider were working on an active campus.”

The project’s biggest construction challenge, agrees Roughton, was the constrained site with little staging area and multiple underground utilities that had to be worked around. “Coordination of deliveries had to be carefully coordinated,” he says. “Sequencing the work was important based on the relative complexity of the envelope design between the precast, brick, granite, metal panel, zinc, and multiple curtainwall systems.”

Despite these obstacles, precast panel erection took just 15 days.

Angled Façades
Design vision for the mixed-use project, says Roughton, called for a modern-style structure that fit within traditional campus architecture of brick buildings. “The massing and organization of the building,” he explains, “is designed to take advantage of its prominent location on the main quad, while reinforcing a key pedestrian circulation route connecting the main residential and academic areas of campus. Two adjacent facades of the building are angled inward to reinforce the primary pedestrian circulation route through the building.” A colored concrete topping slab on the first floor further underscores this route.

The Innovation Center replaces a 100-year-old Alumni Gym. The new, steel-framed structure is set on spread footings.

LEED Gold certification for the project is being targeted. Sustainability features include the building’s high performance envelope system, energy efficient windows, high efficiency mechanical systems, LED lighting, motorized drapes, and use of locally-sourced materials, including the architectural precast panels. The building structure and roofing is designed to support a future green roof installation.

Just What the “Maker” Ordered
Plans for the Studio include a robotics lab, maker space to foster creativity, laboratories, and high-tech classrooms for Great Problems Seminars. A Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship will help students find paths to commercialization for their projects. An Innovation Exchange will provide flexible workspace for student project teams and foster sharing of physical and digital work. A Global Impact Lab will showcase student project teams working throughout the world and alumni achievements.

The facility will include both informal collaboration areas with display technology and prototyping equipment. To showcase student work the building will include a central double-height space with stadium seating and display wall, along with an open floor plan and interior glass to maximize visibility of project work.

As might be expected, design of the Innovation Center project made extensive use of design technology, including BIM 5D (cost+time) modeling, Autodesk Revit, Primavera scheduling, RS Means cost estimating, Navisworks enhanced visualization, Robot for load analysis, and Procore construction management software. Contractor Shawmut utilized its Virtual Studio to provide Oculus Rift and Microsoft HoloLens to display high-definition renderings.


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Project Team


Coreslab Structures, (CONN) Inc., Thomaston, CT


Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester, MA

Owner's Representative

KVAssociates, Boston, MA


Gensler Architect, Boston, MA

Design Consultants

Nitsch Engineering, Boston, MA (Civil Engineering)
ARYO Associates, Boston, MA (MEP, IT, security & lighting)

Structural Engineer

Lemessurier, Boston, MA


Shawmut Design and Construction, West Springfield, MA
Photo Credit - Shawmut Design and Construction


Project/Precast Scope

  • Sq. Footage: 78,000
  • Levels/Floors: 5-story
  • Architectural Precast Elements: 38 pieces (5,822 ft2) of architectural precast concrete panels
  • Resources: Architectural Cladding Systems