Stanford Report Online

Stanford Report, November 1, 2000


The Science and Engineering Quadrangle (SEQ) is a $140 million mix of sleek, modern architecture and traditional red-tiled roofs designed to encourage interaction and the birth of new ideas among scholars involved in related disciplines. At the same time, its exterior spaces form a connective link between the east and west ends of the campus.

"The space is both a gathering place and a pedestrian connector," says Judy Chan, associate director of the Planning Office.

A view of the sleek architecture of the SEQ's Teaching Center, which boasts three lecture halls and two auditoriums that feature 360-degree revolving stages. photo: L.A. Cicero

The SEQ project, started in the 1980s during the administration of President Donald Kennedy, takes up 41 acres and includes four new buildings: the David Packard Electrical Engineering Building, the Teaching Center, Sequoia Hall and the Gordon and Betty Moore Materials Research Building. The project also includes the renovation of the Jack McCullough Building and minor changes to Varian Physics Building.


Located on the university's Near West Campus area on the western edge of the Quadrangle, the land where the SEQ stands today has been designated since Stanford's pioneer days as the "Future Science Quad." Two decades ago the university began to address the crossword puzzle look of buildings that had sprung up west of the Main Quad. Planners aimed to consolidate science and engineering laboratories in a setting that would foster interaction and collaboration among scientists and students and promote pedestrian circulation patterns such as those of the Main Quad. "Three years ago we were spread all over the campus and hardly talked to each other," recalls electrical engineering Professor Stephen Boyd. According to Chan, the Electrical Engineering Department took up space "in at least six buildings."

A $40 million donation from William Hewlett in 1986 was earmarked for the Near West Campus plan, but the endeavor was sidelined after the 1989 earthquake.

An incident that is becoming comfortably ensconced into SEQ legend occurred during the dedication of the Green Earth Sciences Building in 1993: David Packard stepped out to the back courtyard and was appalled at the eyesore created by the hodge-podge of decrepit cinderblock structures and haphazard service vehicle trails spread out before him. He conferred with then President Gerhard Casper about the future of the site.

A 1994 joint gift of $77 million from Hewlett and Packard got the SEQ project rolling.

Ray Bacchetti, the vice provost for planning and management from 1970 to 1990, who retired in 1993 as vice president for planning and management, played a major role in initiating and guiding the Near West Campus plan during his final decade here. Or, as Chan, puts it: "He made it happen. With the Near West Campus plan, we were poised and ready to respond to the gift from Mr. Hewlett and Mr. Packard."

Bacchetti, now a program officer of education with the Hewlett Foundation, pursued the "notion" of finding better ways for connecting scientists exiled to enclaves and making them an integral part of the institution. In discussions with architects and faculty over features such as landings and alcoves that would encourage interaction, he discovered it wasn't necessary to ask professors what departments they were from. "It was more informative to ask them what they were working on," Bacchetti says. Knowledge gleaned from these talks played a hand in design of the courtyards, buildings, roads and other features that lead to the crossing of paths and mingling of scientists involved in related projects. "It's the way science gets done," Bacchetti says.

The David Packard Electrical Engineering Building.
photo: L.A. Cicero

In creating the SEQ, the university tore down five aging buildings and built four new ones. In the process of dispensing with the Electronics Research Laboratory, the Applied Electronics Laboratory and the Physics Tank, among others, Stanford gained nearly 100,000 square feet of academic space and 6 to 6 1/2 acres of new open space. "That's an example of campus planning that we try and do," says Andy Coe, director of community relations.

The buildings of the SEQ

On its four floors, the Packard Building houses 10 conference rooms that seat from 12 to 90 persons, six teaching assistant rooms, four computer laboratories and Bytes café.

The Teaching Center has three lecture halls and two auditoriums that feature 360-degree revolving stages.

Sequoia Hall, which houses the Statistics Department, has a small library, two computer labs, a classroom, a nine-seat conference room and a lounge with two entryways. Jacaranda Court, with its raised grassy area and benches, is a lush sanctuary for relaxation or reflection.

The Varian Physics Building, which underwent minor repairs, is neighbor to Sequoia Hall and the Teaching Center on the north end.

The Moore and the McCullough buildings are home base for the Theodore Geballe Laboratory for Advanced Materials, which oversees research and development from theory to fabrication and performance. The buildings are designed to operate as one entity, says Turgut M. Gür, technical director for the laboratory. Researchers from seven departments ­ Physics, Chemistry, Applied Physics, Materials Science and Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Chemical Engineering and Electrical Engineering ­ work in the four-story buildings. The Moore Building is now home to 27,000 square feet of lab space and 400 square feet of offices.

The landscape

As one begins the descent into the SEQ's Stone Pine Plaza from the upper plateau of the Green Earth Sciences Building on the south end by the service road fence, golden bougainvillea and coast rosemary come into view as trailing rosemary cascades down the slope on the other side. Robinia trees are planted from Green Earth Sciences through the SEQ and on to its border at Serra Mall. "They are the unifying tree," says Chan. The Robinias border the quad's canopied walkways and continue beyond the SEQ to the Cantor Arts Center.

Fruitless olive groves shade the four main bicycle parking clusters in the SEQ that are accented with licorice plants. On the outer edges of the free-standing arcades, magnolia trees with their shiny leaves and mega-buds of an ivory cast shade the walkways where ferns and other groundcover plants grow thick. Down the path and veering right, there is Jacaranda Court, a small, tree-dotted oasis shared by Sequoia Hall and the Varian Physics Building.

Even the buildings defer to vegetation. The front of Sequoia Hall is curved to accommodate an oak tree set in its wall near the entrance. The Teaching Center's rounded curve on the south side leaves room for majestic oaks to continue holding court. "The entire design was done in consideration of major trees," Chan says.

Packard building doubles as museum, dining hub

For examples galore of the SEQ's use of public space, check out the Packard Building, the science quad's flagship located at the southeast edge just across Serra Mall from the William Gates Computer Science Building. The four-story building is headquarters for the Electrical Engineering Department but also a magnet for the entire region. With Bytes café and the Electrical Engineering Faculty Gallery on the ground floor, a visitor is provided with a taste of Silicon Valley's cuisine and its history.

The exhibit includes a 150-foot-wide dish, a steerable radio telescope completed in 1962 that originally was designed to detect nuclear bomb blasts in the atmosphere. Also on display is the business end of an atomic force microscope (AFM), which measures the topography of small, small worlds. Developed in 1985 by Stanford electrical engineering Professor Calvin Quate and Gerd Binnig and Christoph Gerber of IBM, the AFM measures surface deflections as small as one-tenth the diameter of a silicon atom and is used in fields as diverse as DNA research and data storage.

The HP200C, a resistance-capacitance oscillator that was manufactured in a Palo Alto garage around 1938 as part of the Hewlett-Packard Company's first product line, also is on display. Packard called the precursor to this unassuming piece of machinery the "first practical, low-cost method capable of generating high-quality audio frequencies." Professor Frederick E. Terman encouraged Hewlett to document his work; the resulting thesis earned Hewlett his graduate engineering degree. After the oscillator was shown at a technical conference, Disney Studios ordered eight at a cost of $71.50 each for production of the movie Fantasia.

Ultimately, about two dozen exhibits will be displayed on two floors of the building. The Electrical Engineering Department aims to represent the diversity of its faculty, says Sharon Gerlach, assistant chair of the department.

"The intention is to highlight amazing things at Stanford. There's a lot of interest generated by what's in place," Gerlach says. While exhibits will come and go, it's very likely the oscillator will remain permanently on display. A faculty committee determines what Stanford achievements will be featured in the gallery. "As we see it, this can go on forever," Gerlach adds.

Art of the Quad

The idea of time and indeterminate states will have a permanent place in the SEQ.

Timetable, a granite, steel and stone sculpture by Maya Lin that features a water element, is an outdoor work of art installed in front of the Packard Building.

A gift from Helen Bing, the piece measures 10 1/2 feet in diameter and 21 inches high, and is numbered on the outer ring to indicate Pacific Standard Time, Daylight Savings Time and Greenwich Mean Time or Universal Time Coordinates.

Lin uses a series of rings, discs and rotating features in her sculpture. "Timetable marks the months of the year as it rotates slowly on its axis.

"Although you cannot see the sculpture revolving, its asymmetrical form underscores its changing position over the year," Lin says.

Lin, an architect and artist who incorporates sculpture, landscape and structures in her work, designed the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., and the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Ala. She will be on hand at the dedication of Timetable, which is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 20.

Common areas foster brainstorming

The McCullough Building, connected to the Moore Building by a bridge on the fourth floor and an underground tunnel, houses 25,000 square feet of conference rooms and offices and 15,000 square feet of lab space. Here you'll find spacious lounges with white boards and new modular furniture. There are reading rooms, and in the attic bright rooms with skylights have replaced dark, low-ceilinged, claustrophobic warrens nobody wanted to spend time in, says Gür. Each floor has computer clusters. White boards line the spacious hallways. Weekly coffee and doughnut hours and cookie times provide opportunities for the 30 faculty members and research groups to connect informally. Long, ring-shaped corridors in the building before its renovation provided little or no opportunity for interaction, Gür recalls.

People space is the main theme of the Packard Building, says electrical engineering Professor Boyd. There is room for about 30 faculty, 250 doctoral candidates and up to 50 staff. At every level of the building, you'll find a lobby with kitchen, espresso machines and tables with chairs ­ a destination for those seeking refreshment, company and inspiration. "This is where the real work will happen," Boyd says, adding, "Public space is good academics, not good architecture. It's a nerd quad. Basically, that's what is."