Miller Hull

Odegaard Undergraduate Library & Learning Commons

University of Washington, Seattle, WA
The resourceful outcomes of this redesign demonstrate how any outdated building can be imaginatively and efficiently repurposed when new construction is not an option.
Client University of Washington
Size 165,000 SF building | 50,000 SF renovated area
Completion 2013


When the Odegaard Undergraduate Library at the University of Washington was built, it was during a time when libraries were exclusively places of solitary study. In the 1970s, the library was where one went to be alone, to be hyper-focused, and to remove oneself from the distractions that were common in other buildings like the student center or dining hall. Its layout, as a result, provided two types of spaces to students: a massive computer lab where one could be effectively alone and not alone simultaneously, and private study spaces where students could be left to their own devices.

The interior renovation of the Odegaard Library is thus as much about the astonishing transformation of space in an outmoded building, as it is the re-imagining of the learning experience for students in the 21st century. ‘Finding’ 6500SF of space within the existing structure eliminated the need to add additional square footage and enabled this 1970’s era building to be brought current to meet the changing needs of students. And quickly, too, as requirements of $9.2 million construction cost appropriated by the State mandated an aggressive two year timeframe for completion.

By the time our team was engaged on the project, the 21st century was knocking with insistent fists, and the University was ready to reimagine the library as an undergraduate campus heart, asking what modern students need from their “office” on campus.

It turns out, to learn, students need noise. They need discourse, dialogue, disagreement. They need different types of spaces for different group sizes. They need discovery. Reflection. Individual study as well as active learning.

But although this massive library serving 10,000 students a day 24 hours a day was an essential academic resource, it was old, having been constructed 40 years prior with few improvements since and a growing inability to keep pace with shifts in learning, technology, and energy use.

To figure out exactly what direction the University wanted to go in with the library, our team worked with faculty to identify a set of learning behaviors the building needed to support, then developed an architectural ‘kit of parts’ to address: active learning, discovery of collection, consultation, prototyping, informal learning, individual study, and production. Each piece of the “kit” is color-coded to highlight its significance within the academic experience.

Active learning is one of the most relevant types of engagement that the new library accommodates, bringing technology to students and enabling them to share content between screens, rooms, and groups of people. This capability makes it possible for students to be involved in their own education.

Because our team couldn’t add on to the library, our only option to create space was through removing pieces of the interior. The large main atrium stair was therefore taken out, as the existing atrium was effectively reinvented to become the true nucleus of the building, both functionally and architecturally. Overhead, a new large skylight adds both light and an ‘airiness’ to the three-story atrium. Defining this space are iconic ‘connectivity nodes’ complete with bold graphics to assist with wayfinding and which provide much needed express services. Along the balcony edges, seating and counter workstations stations bring activity to the periphery of this new social “hub.” And in a nod to the prominent and well known original staircase and an efficient reuse of materials, the building’s original oak stair railings were beautifully repurposed throughout the new atrium space.

At the perimeter, technology-rich Active Learning classrooms for daytime team-based learning, can open up and transform into flexible night time study space. Numerous new teaming spaces take advantage of the building structure, with window alcoves turned into meeting booths. To optimize the whole building as the “students’ office on campus,” all spaces are designed for dual use throughout the 24 hour cycle.

Twenty months from start to finish, this first phase of the renovated library serves students in a more social and sustainable setting. Building space efficiency increased by 13% percent and the reconfiguration of space provides a more operationally efficient ‘one stop shop’ learning environment.

Recognizing the building is a notable piece of 1970’s architecture designed by a prominent Pacific Northwest architect, this renovation respects the building’s shell while repurposing its functionality and internal spaces for a contemporary feel that keeps it fresh and forward-looking.

Project Team

Architect: The Miller Hull Partnership, LLP
Contractor: Mortenson Construction
MEP Engineer: Affiliated Engineers
Structural Engineer: Coughlin Porter Lundeen
Signage and Wayfinding: Mayer Reed
Acoustical Consultant: BRC Acoustics
Hardware Consultant: Gordon W. Adams