Learning by Design

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At The University of Utah, the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute has been supporting students with startup aspirations by providing grants, advisors, and the ability to realize ideas into prototypes at no cost. But when the institute celebrated its 10-year anniversary in 2012, its administration wanted to take the program to the next level. It became evident that in order to do this, Lassonde needed a physical home base that would unify its participants—who hailed from different majors ranging from business to fine arts—under one roof to spur their productivity. As this called for more than a conventional academic building or residence hall, the program and campus housing staffs embarked on a collaboration with CannonDesign and its Yazdani Studio on what would become their own prototype of sorts.

“We had to invent a new typology that, to the best of my knowledge, didn’t exist on other campuses,” says Mehrdad Yazdani, director of the Yazdani Studio of CannonDesign and design principal who led the project. The team concluded that creativity and innovation could flourish in an environment that blurred the lines of “where I sleep, where I make, and where I meet,” Yazdani says. Thus, the five-story Lassonde Studios—a combination school dormitory and startup incubator—was born.

Pushing the envelope

Even before stepping inside, visitors note that Lassonde Studios doesn’t resemble a typical campus building. Its irregular, asymmetrical form is something between a “K” and an “X” shape with slightly sinuous copper-clad walls flanking each of the wings. This enticing material references both Utah’s copper mines and institute benefactor, Pierre Lassonde’s role in the mining industry. The remaining walls of the envelope are either glazed or clad with light-beige brick. The palette complements the existing brick, glass, and metal buildings on the campus yet also distinguishes the building  with its different colorations.

The peculiar shape “was inspired by the location of South Salt Lake embraced by the mountain range,” Yazdani says. “The wings create a sense of a canyon.” The copper will patinate—another reason for its selection. Its transformation from weathering will make Lassonde Studios “a dynamic building that changes with time, which is a true reflection of what the building stands for,” Yazdani adds.

Lessons in networking

Upon entering the ground floor from any of several entrances, students and visitors encounter raw interiors of exposed ceilings and concrete floors with patches of carpet tile in select spots. A cafe component and diverse array of seating areas—made up of colorful, movable lounge furniture—allows students to interact how and wherever they wish in a non-institutional setting. Much like a co-working space, there are also ample open desks and nine enclosed offices, the latter of which are awarded to students for a full semester to run their startups and meet with clients.

But the main attraction of the ground level is the “Garage.” Inspired by the successful entrepreneurs who started in their own garages (such as Apple’s Steve Jobs), the Garage is a 24/7 makerspace staffed by students. Work tables, a woodshop, metal shop, 3D printer room, tools, and materials are all free to use without a reservation or advanced order, making it effortless for anyone to walk in and start prototyping a concept, sew a loose button, or make a personalized trunk sticker. “We really try to enable students to do things without a lot of interference from us,” says Troy D’Ambrosio, executive director of the institute. “We try to get out of their way.”

Responding to the school’s desire to engage the rest of the campus with this building, CannonDesign glazed the Garage from floor to ceiling. The makerspace activities pique curiosity in the minds of passersby who, regardless of major or enrollment status, can utilize the Garage resources and ground-floor lounge spaces too.

The four residential floors above encourage interaction while displaying individualism through unique themes. Stepping off the elevator, residents of every floor arrive at a central lobby with glazing that affords natural light and campus views. Equipment, graphics, finishes, and furnishings in these lobbies convey the floor’s theme. The design and art level, for instance, features a craft table, sewing machine, and greenscreen photography setup. On the adventure and gear floor, there are stations for waxing skis or repairing bikes, and hammock-like hanging chairs. The gaming and digital media floor boasts a six-player game wall, while the global impact and sustainability floor features a hydroponic garden and giant map for students to pin locations where they want to make an impact.

Accommodations are compact and range from single and double rooms to apartment-like lofts and, the most extreme, suites with 20 sleeping pods (cozy single-bed units furnished with just the essentials such as a wardrobe and TV) that share a common area and full kitchen. All of the sleeping quarters are designed to keep residents from isolating themselves and prod them to utilize the building’s public spaces. Even the laundry room on each residential floor is meant to foster interaction: The washers and dryers are free to use, centrally located, and walled off by glass to promote eye contact that can lead to spontaneous conversation.

The future is now

Demonstrating that it has become the campus destination, Lassonde Studios received more than 1,400 applications for its 400 beds at the end of its second year. But as the program’s needs can turn on a dime, so can the total number of available beds. The design team future-proofed the building by collocating plumbing and utilities in central cores of each wing as opposed to behind room walls. Meanwhile, room units have taller-than-normal 12-foot ceilings and are arranged around structural bays. These simple measures ensure that, if the school decides it needs more maker or lounge spaces, it can knock down the rooms’ interior walls without having to rework building infrastructure. It’s indicative of a design that is as forward-thinking as the innovative entrepreneurs it caters to.


6 Startups to Watch
The Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute saw the launch of more than 500 startups by the end of its second year in the new building. While some of these may not survive, the students who founded them will still have gained valuable business and professional experience to help them in future jobs. For now, Troy D’Ambrosio, executive director of the institute, estimates that 50 to 75 of these projects will go on to become businesses. Here’s a look at some recent student-led startups to come out of the institute.

Created by Cavin Nicholson, this brand is all about modularity on the go. Boundary’s Errant Pack, for example, is a backpack with modular components and fluid organization that allow it to go from being a bookbag to a photographer’s equipment pack to a gym bag.

Bruxit is a startup devoted to developing a therapeutic device for treating grinding your teeth when you sleep. The startup quickly developed a scaled-down working mouth guard that notifies the patient when they are grinding or clenching their teeth (the mouth guard vibrates). They are now working toward a clinical trial to demonstrate the device’s effectiveness.

Some people fly to gain miles and some walk to get fit points for various rewards. Along the same lines, this app, founded by Sam Hirsch, rewards sustainably minded commuters. It tracks their use of clean transportation (walking, biking, or taking public transportation), and tallies up points, which in turn lead to coupons and discounts to local businesses who also support clean transportation.

Colton Gardner is one of the three co-founders of this peer-to-peer service that functions like Airbnb—but for storage space. The online marketplace connects hosts who have extra space in their homes to renters in need of storage.

Sole Case Displays
Frustrated by the lack of high-quality storage solutions for fashion-forward consumers, Charles Rind launched Sole Case Displays, and the company’s first product, the Sole Case, is a high-quality acrylic storage unit for shoes. It comes with a drop-front door for easy access and has the unique ability to lock onto and stack on other Sole Cases. Currently, the company has found a lot of success working with sneaker customizers who are using their cases to present their custom sneakers to their clients.

Vitali M. Kirkpatrick created CloviFi, an inexpensive and compact Personal Sound amplifier device for those struggling with hearing loss. It enables users to privately listen to high-quality TV audio streams through personal mobile devices, without disturbing others nearby. The product won an Innovation Award at this year’s CES show, and Kirkpatrick is working to bring the product to market.


Project Credits

Architect: CannonDesign Programming, Planning

Design Architect: Yazdani Studio of CannonDesign

Architect of Record: EDA Architects Inc.

CannonDesign project team: Mehrdad Yazdani (design principal); Craig Hamilton (project principal); Lynne Deninger (student housing leader); Paul Gonzales (project manager); and Yan Krymsky, Jessica Yi, Ben Juckes, August Miller, Hansol Park, Roshanek Mostaghim, and Jennifer Marckx (project team members)

EDA Architects project team: John Shuttleworth (project principal); Nick Lorenzo (project manager); Amanda Jones (interior designer); and Stephanie McCarthy (programming)

Interior designer/furniture: EDA Architects

Contractor: Gramoll Construction

Structural Engineer: Dunn Associates, Inc

Mechanical Engineer: Colvin Engineering

Civil Engineer: NV5

Landscape (if shown): ArcSitio Design

Sustainability: Atelier 10

Design Engineer: Arup


Selected Sources

Architectural glass/glazing: Vitro Architectural Glass (formerly PPG Glass)

Architectural/custom woodworking: Legacy Mill & Cabinet, Architectural Components Group (ACGI),

Arm chairs: Modway

Carpet/carpet tile: Bentley

Door Hardware: Adams Rite, Sargent, Rockwood, HES, McKinney, Rixson

Doors:  VT Industries, Curries

Drywall: American Gypsum

Exterior lighting:  Lithonia

Fluorescent/industrial:  Spectrum, Lithonia

Hanging nest seating: Cacoon USA

Lighting: Spectrum Lighting Inc.

Lockers/cubbies:  Legacy Mill & Cabinet, Penco

Lounge chairs: JL Furnishings, a JLF collections company (pictured 1), Joybird

Paint: Sherwin Williams

Pendants/chandeliers:  Spectrum, OCL, Eureka, Foscarini Diesel

Plumbing fixtures/fittings:  Zurn, Symmons, Mainline, Kohler, Mansfield, Bemis, Just MFG, Haws, Chicago Faucets, Speakman

Reclaimed stool/table: Project Sunday LLC

Recessed lighting: Gotham, Spectrum, Architectural Lighting Works

Resilient flooring:  Mannington, Lonseal, Johnsonite

Signage (fabricator):  Allotech

Stools: HBF (pictured 2)

Tables: Carolina Business Furniture (pictured 3)

Track lighting:  Lighting Services Inc.

Window treatments: MechoShade

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