University of Wisconsin-Madison
Architect: Kahler Slater
Owner: University of Wisconsin Department of Facilities Development
Contractor: J.H. Findorff & Son, Inc.
For decades, the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s School of Nursing lacked a true home. Despite ranking among the nation’s top nursing programs, it was located within borrowed spaces and a former dormitory dating to the 1920s. As the School’s administrators realized that the lack of architectural identity and places for student interaction would ultimately impact the School’s growth, a new dedicated center for nursing education became an essential requirement to ensure continued and future success.
The new Signe Skott Cooper Hall nursing education building reflects the School of Nursing’s significant history as well as its vision for the future of the profession, by emphasizing its focus on research, innovation, and the creation of collaborative teaching and learning opportunities. It features a variety of shared spaces, from intimate to spacious, that promote student interaction. An engaging palette of materials, comfortable furnishings, and thoughtfully selected lighting enhance the learning environment throughout.
To support the School’s primary mission of training future nursing caregivers, classrooms were designed to complement progressive teaching pedagogies by incorporating cutting-edge technological tools. The School’s conference rooms, research offices, and active learning classrooms are among the largest and most interactive in the state, and the program highlights a realistic simulation suite which allows future nurses to practice procedures in hospital, clinic, and home settings. A 300-seat auditorium, a café, and multi-use rooms for exercise and wellness programs are among the many student and faculty amenities which enrich the teaching and learning experience, and act as community resources which draw in the School’s academic neighbors as well.
In order to foster connectivity with the adjacent Medical and Pharmacy Schools, as well as the University Hospital and the broader campus, the design revolves around a well-defined green space at the center of the site. The quadrangle establishes a collaborative hub for the academic medical campus, while the building’s overall siting at the street edge strengthens outward connections. A welcoming sequence of lobby and gathering areas, flanked by the major program blocks, seamlessly draws users from street to courtyard, while the landscaped plaza and additional green roofs form a cohesive planted tapestry, which enhances the project’s LEED Silver status. The building takes additional advantage of its site by incorporating a recreation path that encircles nearby Lake Mendota, and by providing dramatic views of the campus and city from its upper floors.
In setting the stage for the future, it was important to recognize the School’s history and celebrate its addition to the University campus within the legacy of the Wisconsin Idea, which fosters the importance of public universities’ contributions to the state. Original architectural elements from the 1924 nurses’ dormitory were repurposed throughout the interior, and exterior materials were chosen to reflect the traditional UW-Madison vernacular. Lower levels, carved away to create large communal spaces, are clad in stone in order to anchor the school to the site, while the building’s signature profile feature, a cantilevered wood ‘eyebrow’, shades upper floors and gathering space with its gaze fixed firmly on the horizon.
Representing one of the most innovative nursing education and research facilities in the nation, Signe Skott Cooper Hall School of Nursing enhances collaboration across disciplines with its open design and large teaching and learning spaces. It proudly announces a new era of nursing education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and will impact the future of healthcare in the State of Wisconsin and beyond.
Photos: Todd Brown, Kate Joyce