New building to be hub for multidisciplinary studies
Nobody likes moving. There are boxes, things get lost, nobody can find your
new office and the phone always takes longer to reconnect than planned.
That said, the move to Y2E2 came as good news to environmental researchers.
For them, the building promises the ability to work closely, in the physical
sense of the word, with colleagues in many disciplines.
A month after packing and unpacking, Dick Luthy, the Silas H. Palmer Professor
of Civil Engineering and a senior fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment,
said that even as the moving process was under way, he could sense a difference.
“Prior to moving into the building, casual interactions with colleagues in
other disciplines were rare outside of organized activities. It is apparent
already in just one month that those days are over. We all are experiencing
a greater social dynamic across all areas of energy and environment.”
When the building was first conceived, scholars, planners and architects were
intent on promoting multidisciplinary interaction through architecture. Studies
have shown that unscheduled encounters are critical for knowledge-based organizations.
As Luthy said, it’s one thing to plan a meeting, another thing altogether to
be confident that on a daily basis one will run into someone and get new ideas.
Many of the Earth sciences people remain in Mitchell, Green and the Braun Geology
Corner, but others are moving. Also, the institutes and centers that illustrate
the potentials of cross-disciplinary collaboration have moved in: among them
are the Woods Institute for the Environment, the Global Climate and Energy
Project, the Center for Ocean Solutions, the Precourt Institute for Energy
Efficiency, the Environment and Natural Resources Law and Policy Project, the
Program on Food Security and the Environment and the Bill Lane Center for the
Study of the North American West.
Affiliates of the many centers and departments, housed both in Y2E2 and elsewhere,
participate in a wide range of initiatives aimed at bringing people together
from diverse areas.
One of the best examples is the ongoing Water Seminar, sponsored by the Woods
Institute. It began in fall 2007, when Luthy summoned his freshwater colleagues
to a town meeting so that everyone could find out what everyone else was doing.
In 10-minute presentations, they talked about hydrology, regulation, disease,
waste, climate change, aridity and water supply. Since then, regular seminars
have taken place on such subjects as water regulation in China, reservoir modeling
and the ever-popular solid waste management led by researchers known as the
poop group, whose work takes them to Africa, Asia and Latin America.
In addition to the research centers, interdisciplinary degree programs also
have a new home in Y2E2, including the Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in
Environment and Resources (IPER) and the undergraduate Earth Systems Program.
The building also houses two departments: the Department of Civil and Environmental
Engineering and the new Department of Environmental Earth System Science in
the School of Earth Sciences, which aims to look at the full complexity of
the global system, including the interactions, synergies and feedbacks that
link the oceans, atmosphere, land surfaces and freshwater systems.
Pamela Matson, the Chester Naramore Dean of the School of Earth Sciences and
the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Professor of Environmental Studies, won’t be
moving into the building, but her enthusiasm is second to no one’s. Indeed,
she was one of the principal instigators of the new building.
“Y2E2 is truly a wonderful interactive space for the people who are housed
there, but it is much, much more,” she said. For scientists and teachers like
herself, the new building “is a coming-together place, a perfect gathering
place for interdisciplinary research teams, student groups, seminars and projects.
Y2E2 was designed for use by our entire multidisciplinary environmental community
The building’s various thematic communities, or research clusters, are signaled
by colors: red is for climate and energy, blue for oceans and estuaries, yellow
for land use and conservation, and green for fresh water. Thus, occupants and
visitors are made aware of the focus areas as they move around the building.
The architects also intended that these colors serve as a navigational tool:
It makes it easier for people to give directions to events at the building
and find their way to meetings.
Even for those who did not have to pack up their offices, Y2E2 seems to be
acting as a magnet. Rob Dunbar, the J. Frederick and Elisabeth Brewer Weintz
University Fellow in Undergraduate Education, a professor in the Department
of Geological and Environmental Sciences, a saltwater and climate man, and
founding director of IPER and the Victoria P. and Roger W. Sant Director of
the Earth Systems Program, still has his main office in Braun Geology Corner.
“But I find I am actually spending significant time [at Y2E2], at least part
of a day three times a week,” he said. “It is one-stop shopping for many of
the folks I work with, folks that used to be spread out all over campus.”