Meet The University of Idaho Integrated Research and Innovation Center

The University of Idaho Integrated Research and Innovation Center (IRIC) is a campus centerpiece and a case study for the imaginative and untraditional. We conducted a Q&A with Principal Bryan Zagers to understand what made this project so special.


Q: Hi Bryan. To begin, can you give us an overview? What is the University of Idaho Integrated Research and Innovation Center all about?

BRZ: The Integrated Research and Innovation Center is a hugely important project to the university and community. It’s at the heart of the campus and, as its name implies, is a world-class facility designed for research and learning. It’s three stories of high-end labs, offices and collaboration spaces. Interestingly, it doesn’t belong to any one department, instead, it’s designed for flexibility and multidisciplinary research.


Q: Why is it special that the building doesn’t belong to one department?

BRZ: First, it breaks with tradition. At most universities, there’s a science building, a business school, and so on. The IRIC throws out that structure. As a project team, we noticed early on that University of Idaho was committed to doing things differently. The decision to make the IRIC interdepartmental, which is the foundation of the entire project and program, perfectly exemplifies their overall approach.

Second, it’s a significant philosophical departure from the norm. Instead of assigning one department to the space or designating the building for a specific type of research, they’re inviting multiple disciplines to do their work under one roof. It’s an attitude that feels more like that of The Allen Institute, a place with collaboration at its core.


Q: How did this attitude affect your team’s designs?
BRZ: It guided every decision we made. While some goals aligned with those of a traditional university (for example, it needed to be an impressive stop on tours, attracting top student and research science talent), most priorities were unique for a campus project, as it needed to be a place where both new students and accomplished scientists would feel at home.

Q: You compared IRIC to The Allen Institute. Can you tell us more about the parallels between the two?

BRZ: The IRIC is different than a typical college campus building, but it’s different than most labs too. It’s named very intentionally, hosting projects like the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ study on the diets of diabetics (Kerry Huber), the Electrical & Computer Engineering College of Engineering’s microelectronics research (Fred Barlow), and Forest and Rangeland Measurements Lab College of Natural Resources study of the ecological and social impacts of extreme wildland fires (Alistair Smith). It’s rare for projects this diverse to be under one roof. I compare it to The Allen Institute because both are founded on the interdisciplinary model. They emphasize collaboration, put the science on display, and subscribe to the idea that distinct fields can inspire and inform one another.

Q: What are some complications or special requirements that come with creating a lab?

BRZ: Most of the complications were born from the equipment. Every building moves, but the movement that’s imperceptible to the average person is detrimental to lab equipment. In IRIC’s case, vibrations were a primary consideration, especially since the lab houses a mass spectrometer, one of the most highly-sensitive machines in existence.

We created a comprehensive plan that spanned the building’s footprint, organizing it into zones. Each zone has distinct vibration requirements, the most sensitive accommodating the mass spectrometer. Zoning allowed us to maintain ultimate flexibility, a priority to the university who needed to accommodate a variety of project types and programs.

Q: Were there any other unique engineering challenges?

BRZ: There always are. The University of Idaho had specific goals, and each demanded that the project team rise to the occasion.

From the beginning, the IRIC was slotted to be a centerpiece of the campus and an important stop on campus tours. As such, it couldn’t just function as a high-end lab, appealing to its scientists. The project team ensured that the building was impressive from the outside, mapped tour-friendly walking routes through the building, designed complex indoor/outdoor connections, and spent a lot of time considering the visitor experience.

The building’s structural system posed another challenge. Typically universities aren’t comfortable breaking away from stately, institutional-looking designs. In keeping with their breaking-from-tradition theme, the IRIC uses a variety of cladding systems and left the majority of structural elements exposed.

Another university priority was flexibility. Idaho had a long-term vision for the IRIC, and wanted to ensure that the building remained relevant and functional for years to come. The solution: a raised floor system which allows a portion of the building with less restrictive vibration requirements to evolve according to future needs. To create the system, we leveraged experience from Microsoft’s campus, demonstrating again how the IRIC was unique, pulling inspiration and ideas from impressive projects in a completely different market.

Q: Any final thoughts about this project?

BRZ: Different is interesting, and from the get-go, the University of Idaho wanted different. As an engineer, it’s exciting to break the mold, to work with complicated geometries, to solve problems. The project team got to do all that and more with this building. And to boot, the project team was full of great people who worked well together.

Overall, the university had a vision to create something unique. They remained true to that vision throughout, and it’s reflected in everything from the building’s cladding system and exposed structural elements, to the programming and in-action philosophy of the IRIC.

Project Team:
Architect: NBBJ
Owner: University of Idaho
General Contractor: Hoffman Construction Company
Mechanical & Electrical Engineer: MW Consulting Engineers
Geotechnical Engineer: STRATA
Landscape Designer: SPVV Landscape Architects