PCS Stories: UPS Welcome Center


How will the new Welcome Center at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma be used?
The Welcome Center will serve as a gateway and focal point for prospective students and their families. The building has open, inviting spaces for presentations and community gatherings, smaller rooms for interviews, and space for the Admissions Office. The building’s exterior has a familiar masonry aesthetic seen across campus, but its structural system actually departs from the norm.
What was unique about the structural system?
We decided to use a wood frame system for most of the building, with heavy timber and steel framing in a few strategic areas. Structurally, it’s framed more like a house than the other buildings at UPS, which are completely steel framed.
What discussions led the team to this solution?
Due to some changes on the project team, we joined the project around 50% Design Development level, which meant we had to catch up fast and account for a few important factors. First, the project was over budget; and second, the proposed steel structural system needed significant revision to fit with the architectural design and mechanical systems.
The idea of a wood framed structure quickly emerged in our first team conversations as a great fit for the project’s coordination needs as well as offering a significant cost savings. Despite initial hesitance, once the owner saw the benefits, they enthusiastically embraced the wood frame concept.
How did you hone in on the final design?
We worked with the architect to utilize the best type of structure for each area as needed—wood in the smaller rooms and “back of house,” and steel integrated with the heavy timber elements in the larger presentation spaces to support important visual elements. We worked fast to design a blended solution, rather than a one-size-fits-all structural system.
What other conversations with the project team shaped this project?
The contractor approached us about using Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs) throughout the project. We coordinated discussions with the contractor, architect and others to ensure SIPs were a good fit, and that we maximized the benefit. This building system was a natural fit in the steel framed areas, but we were able to adapt it to the wood-framed areas as well. The SIPs provided another significant cost savings and a way to achieve simplified framing at the shallow profile roof eaves.
What did you take away from this project?
Our goal in every conversation was to zero in on finding the best solution for the project and the owner, even when that meant exploring outside conventional assumptions. Our diverse experience lets us synthesize our “lessons learned” from very different projects and apply them in new ways.
Alex Legé is an Associate Principal at PCS with over 11 years of experience with the firm. A versatile collaborator with a broad portfolio of residential, healthcare, and educational facilities, Alex’s background in architectural engineering enables creative solutions.