Olin’s Innovative Transformation

Five small rooms were gutted and converted to over 1,000 square feet of lab space for Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering Nabil Simaan (right).

One of the School of Engineering’s landmark buildings, Olin Hall, recently benefited from a $1 million-plus interior renovation. The 36-year-old building currently houses the mechanical engineering and chemical and biomolecular engineering departments.

Peter Pintauro, H. Eugene McBrayer Professor of Chemical Engineering and chair of the chemical and biomolecular engineering department, worked closely with contractors to accomplish changes.

The multifloored chemical engineering undergraduate teaching lab before renovation.

“The goal of the project was twofold. One was to renovate our teaching labs to improve the quality of our undergraduate programs while supporting a greater number of undergraduate students,” Pintauro says. “The other was to better the teaching environment to support enrollment figures and increase laboratory space for new faculty.”

He noted that chemical engineering enrollment figures have doubled over the last five years, adding to the need for renovated space. Revamped lab space also allows for flexibility in types of teaching experiments. The most innovative new component was restructuring Olin’s spatial configuration to convert a multifloor undergraduate teaching lab into a single floor state-of-the-art teaching and research lab space. The overall amount of useable lab space will increase when the basement research laboratory is fully renovated next year.

The renovation of Olin Hall has also been transformative for mechanical engineering, says Robert Pitz, professor and chair of mechanical engineering. The overhaul provided updated classrooms and modern undergraduate and research laboratories for the rapidly growing mechanical engineering department. “An expanded and updated system dynamics/instrumentation laboratory is providing exciting hands-on experiments for undergraduates,” Pitz says. “Graduate students are sitting in renovated laboratories and in a new 20-student graduate office suite. Four new mechanical faculty members have renovated research laboratories in surgical robotics, microfluidics and nanophotonics.”

When finished in 1975, Olin housed the mechanical engineering and engineering sciences departments in then state-of-the-art facilities.

To establish sustainable heating and cooling, Olin Hall’s HVAC was upgraded to include new variable speed drives on air handlers with the ability to use outside air when the temperature allows, says Gary Walker, Olin Hall building manager. “By replacing the variable air volume boxes throughout the building, it greatly improved the air quality. We are also reducing the power requirements for the building in accordance with Vanderbilt’s policy for energy savings,” Walker says.

Clockwise from top left: 1. The renovated chemical engineering lab has room for 40 students to work at once. 2. Visitors to Olin Hall now enter an inviting, well-lit lobby. 3. Updated classrooms provide a more inviting environment for students and professors. 4. The new layout transforms the lab to approximately 2,200 square feet of useable lab space.

See more photos of Olin then and now.

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