Oak Point Associates was hired to create a new center for student innovation at the University of Maine's Orono campus. The mission of the LEED Silver Foster Center is to provide an environment that fosters innovation and entrepreneurship, leading toward the establishment of new knowledge-based ventures. The building houses individuals and teams of students and faculty from all fields of study who are interested in starting new businesses, working to build interdisciplinary teams from engineering and liberal arts sectors.
The site for the facility is a wooded, sloping oak grove at the center of the campus, at the edge of a wetland. Instead of aligning the building with the existing road grid, the design team worked with the constraints of slope and wetland to make the most appropriate fit for the building on the site. The building was set back from the road to allow the existing oak grove to be retained, and was oriented to balance beneficial solar orientation with minimizing earthwork. Access to the building was planned so as not to remove any large existing trees between Long Road and the building, and to give the appearance of the building being nested within the woods.
The building employs a simple shed roof that allows for a floor-to-ceiling glass wall on the south facing facade, creating a voluminous main entrance and "inspiration space" with plenty of year-round daylight. A smaller roof slopes in the opposite direction from the main roof on the north facade, hovering over an enclosed entryway of floor-to-ceiling glass, accessed by a path that cuts through the oak grove.
The program for the building includes an open-plan team workspace, private work rooms for developing presentations, a conference room for confidential meetings between entrepreneurs and potential investors, a seminar room, offices for faculty advisors, and an inspiration space for chance encounters. The architect maximized the flexibility of these interior spaces by placing program elements on a uniform grid, and by employing the use of large, glass garage doors to allow the seminar room and conference space to be combined with the inspiration space for large gatherings of up to 200 persons. Modular furniture systems throughout allow for quick and simple room reconfigurations. The open grid also allows for ease of future expansion. HVAC system components are sized to allow for a future upgrade to geothermal.
Low Impact Development methods minimized site impact. Careful building orientation maximized solar properties, which, combined with Direct Digital Controls and high efficiency mechanical and electrical systems, realized a total energy savings of 38% over two years. Occupants enjoy high levels of indoor air quality, daylight, and views. Local, renewable, and recycled materials were used throughout.