Substance Architecture

Iowa State University Student Innovation Center

Ames, Iowa

The Student Innovation Center (SIC) is a centralized resource serving all nine colleges that comprise Iowa State University (ISU). Like the Library and the Memorial Union, the SIC was conceived as a University-wide facility that would allow each college to explore the role “making” plays in innovation within their individual disciplines. The building is open to all 36,000+ students at ISU and represents a shift in campus-wide pedagogy away from traditional passive learning toward a hands-on, interactive teaching model. SIC was designed in collaboration with KieranTimberlake Architects of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Substance was the Architect-of-Record responsible for developing and detailing the building enclosure and leading the consultant team throughout the programming, design and construction process.

The 140,000 square foot building is without precedent and required a rigorous, probative programming process to determine what the building should be. A series of focus groups resulted in each College identifying what their student’s “make” (from music to food to business plans) and, in turn, what spaces and equipment would facilitate these activities. The building becomes a container that is filled with an evolving set of “maker” spaces ranging from metal, wood and composite fabrication shops, to a test kitchen, café and retail outlet, to a rooftop garden. Innovative teaching formats are supported with flexible, technology-enabled classrooms in unique formats found nowhere else on campus. Finally, a gallery space was included to display the results of “making” campus wide.

The SIC’s program is intended to evolve. The simple structure frames a series of flexible, loft-like spaces that can be reconfigured over time. The interior finishes are rough, and the systems are exposed to further accommodate change. The building’s exterior, however, is fixed - wrapped in an undulating glass skin that appears to move around the form. These undulations, resulting from solar analysis, reduce the building’s solar heat gain while providing panoramic views out to the surrounding campus and inward to a central courtyard. The building’s daylight is harvested to further reduce energy consumption and the mechanical systems employ additional energy saving strategies. As a result, the facility is anticipating LEED Gold Certification - communicating to students and faculty that innovation is, by necessity, sustainable.

Peter Aaron


International Architecture Awards - Honorable Mention, 2022
The Chicago Athenaeum Museum of Architecture & Design and The European Centre Architecture Art Design and Urban Studies

World Architecture Festival Awards - Finalist, 2022
World Architecture Festival

The Plan Awards - Finalist, 2022
The Plan

Excellence in Design - Merit Award, 2021
American Institute of Architects - Tri-State Chapter

Excellence in Design - Merit Award, 2021
American Institute of Architects - Philadelphia

Midwest Best Project-Higher Education/Research (with IMEG), 2021
Engineering News-Record

Excellence in Design - Merit Award, 2021
American Institute of Architects - Iowa Chapter

Masters Award (with JE Dunn), 2021
Master Builders of Iowa

Excellence in Craft (with AWS), 2020
American Institute of Architects - Iowa Chapter


Iowa Architect, Winter 2022
Iowa Architect, Fall 2021
Iowa Architect, Winter 2021
Iowa Architect, Fall 2017

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