Norfolk State University


Norfolk, Virginia


143,000 square feet
4 floors

Completion Date



WPA, SmithGroup and our team of consultants have completed Programming and are currently in the Schematic Design phase for Norfolk State University’s New Science Building.

The New Science Building replaces Norfolk State University’s Roy A. Woods laboratory building. The new building is a four-story, 143,000 GSF biology, chemistry, and physics teaching laboratory, research laboratory, classroom and office building that includes a 150-seat planetarium and a greenhouse. WPA and SmithGroup worked with NSU’s Steering Committee to set six project goals to measure design success:

  • Immersive Science: the building will actively advocate science as a display and educational tool
  • Community of Collaboration: encourage collaboration between departments, faculty, and students
  • Leading-Edge Design: Transformative and inspirational architecture
  • Visionary: Embody the aspirational future of Norfolk State University
  • Student Centered: Supporting and empowering students to achieve success
  • Fiscally Responsible: Sustainable, flexible and adaptable. On time and within budget.

Key site drivers included the need to address the public entrance to the north at Gate 3, to address the student-focused entrance to the south on Greek Row, allow for expansion of the future science quad, respect the massing of the Lyman Beecher Brooks Library, and create a beautiful, engaging, and educational outdoor classroom environment along a daylighted culvert for the Ohio Creek watershed.

The ground floor of the building houses the planetarium, greenhouse, the DNIMAS honors program, the STARS Learning Center, a maker space, electrical shop, computer lab, classrooms, science center, student study spaces, offices, and back of house loading and storage with a freight elevator leading directly to lab prep areas. Upper floors stack modular research and teaching labs around a central support core so that each floor’s layout is logical and intuitively understood by new visitors. Offices, classrooms, and student collaborative and study spaces ring the perimeter, allowing for maximum daylighting of student spaces. Faculty offices are always situated next to student spaces to create a community of collaboration.

The building massing expresses the planetarium and greenhouse as clear program pieces. Photovoltaic panels create a “membrane” that collects light, adjusts for shading and daylighting, and provides a protective shell that responds to the environment. The laboratories form the “organelles” or nucleus of the building that are expressed as recognizable forms surrounded by activity. The “habitat” that the building sits within is formed by the landscape that grounds the building, improves campus life, and manages stormwater. The space between these program pieces creates opportunities for interaction.