Artist's rendition of the SAAS STREAM building. (Photo copyright The MillerHull Partnership.)

Artist’s rendition of the SAAS STREAM building. (Photo copyright The MillerHull Partnership.)

We’ve all heard about STEM education by now – Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics – and the importance of today’s students pursuing and excelling in these subjects in order to be leaders in the local and global economies of tomorrow. In the coming decades, more and more jobs will require these areas of expertise and more teachers of these subjects will be needed to ensure the knowledge continues to expand to future generations. And yet today, only sixteen percent of American high school seniors are proficient or have an interest in STEM careers. How, then, do we prove to students that STEM subjects are interesting, important to their future, and that they shouldn’t be intimidating?

As a project manager for The Miller Hull Partnership, I’m currently working on a new building for the Seattle Academy of Arts and Sciences (SAAS) located in the dense, urban neighborhood of Capitol Hill in Seattle, and they’ve taken STEM to another level with STREAM: Science, Technology, Robotics, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics. SAAS understands that science and art aren’t mutually exclusive, and in fact there are many opportunities for crossover. It’s a brilliant concept that would have certainly peaked my interest in high school, where I felt I had to choose between one or the other. In the end, I chose art, while my college-prep brain felt guilty and I received a tsk tsk from advisors. But that was then. Today, I’ve been fortunate to meet some of the students participating in these STREAM classes. I’ve seen them designing and building robots, welding sculpture, printing out objects in 3D, and giving presentations on sustainability. It may always be that students are inclined more towards art or science, but it doesn’t appear as divided or divisive as what I remember.

The new STREAM building for SAAS includes seven purpose-built lab and studio classrooms, including Chemistry, Biology, Physics, Sustainability, Robotics, and more, along with a two-level Learning Commons – another modern educational concept. The Learning Commons is a multi-functional space that serves as a place for collaboration, teaching, study, and research. Focused on digital and information technology, it provides a variety of flexible spaces that can be suited to the task at hand and to the needs of different users. It will also serve as a student dining room, presentation venue, and robotics arena. The STREAM building also houses faculty offices and student break-out space and will be connected to SAAS’s existing Gymnasium and Arts Center.

This high-performance building will practice what it preaches and will serve as a teaching tool to be used in the classroom. Utilizing a natural ventilation system, high-efficiency heating system, and renewable energy through roof-top photovoltaic panels, the building is on track to far exceed code-required energy savings. And you can’t have a STREAM building without thinking about water, so the building will capture rainwater from Seattle’s soggy skies, with the intent of using harvested rainwater for 100 percent of its toilet flushing and irrigation. Other sustainable measures include using sustainable, durable, long-life materials; providing plenty of natural light along with the exterior and interior shading to control it; and drought-tolerant landscaping. Students will help develop and have ongoing access to a software system that will enable them to monitor energy and water usage, collection, and production; making sure the building is on track with its stated goals, and to help come up with solutions if it isn’t.

We’re in the midst of developing construction documents for this exciting project and are slated to break ground in June of this year. I’ll be posting progress photos during construction, but for now I wanted to share a little sneak peek of what the building will look like.

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