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Virginia Tech reveals plans for inaugural building at Innovation Campus in Alexandria

Just a Little Bit Hokie

Virginia Tech reveals plans for inaugural building at Innovation Campus in Alexandria

Academic 1, the first building revealed for Virginia Tech's upcoming Innovation Campus, will feature a photovoltaic glass facade, a geothermal energy system, and maybe just a touch of Hokie stone. (SmithGroup/Courtesy Virginia Tech)

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University has released an early look at the first of several academic buildings planned for the school’s upcoming Innovation Campus in Alexandria, Virginia.

Per a press announcement, new renderings of the glass-sheathed, 300,000-square-foot building were filed with the city earlier this month as part of the Development Special Use Permit submittal process.

Designed and engineered by Detroit-headquartered SmithGroup, the campus’s inaugural building, Academic 1, is expected to break ground in 2021 and open to Virginia Tech students and faculty in the fall of 2024. The building will be dedicated to research and instructional spaces for graduate-level programs in Computer Science and Computer Engineering as well as other “select” programs. “Experiential learning environments within this building will be designed to enhance the Virginia Tech experience,” according to the school, and include “flexible multi-purpose areas, research and testing labs, and maker space.”

Lance Collins, incoming vice president and executive director of the Innovation Campus, referred to the building in a statement as a “bellwether for what we are trying to achieve through our new campus, creating a place that provides the space and environment to foster collaboration and the creation of bold new ideas.”

illustration of a solar powered building
Virginia Tech’s new Amazon H2Q-adjacent satellite campus will include a total of four buildings within a larger mixed-use innovation district. (SmithGroup/Virginia Tech)

Topped with a photovoltaic array and clad in a metal- and glass-heavy facade with integrated solar cells, the building’s distinctive form was calibrated for maximum solar power generation. In addition to harvesting energy from the sun, it will also feature wastewater energy exchange and geothermal energy systems. In addition to the aforementioned ultra-sustainable features, connecting to surrounding (future) parks and green space on the campus played heavily into the building’s design.

And because this is Virginia Tech, the building could potentially incorporate the same grey dolomite limestone—the famous “Hokie stone”—that has defined the architectural landscape of the school’s Blacksburg campus since its beginnings in 1872. Academic 1 is obviously a far cry from the main campus’s bevy of historic, Hokie Stone-y Collegiate Gothic buildings, but SmithGroup and university staff are reportedly “exploring the use” of the material in the new building’s base as a way to “balance the glass and metal facades with the warmth and solidity of natural stone.”

In early 2019, WTOP News reported that the campus would be “Hokie stone optional.”

“We will really work to build buildings consistent with the look and feel we’re going for,” the Washington, D.C.-based outlet reported Brandy Salmon, managing director of the Innovation Campus, as saying during a 2019 panel. “Probably something modern in design, without being too modern—and just beautiful places to be.” Noting that the use of Hokie stone would not be mandatory at any Innovation Campus buildings, Salmon added: “I would imagine there will be at least a touchstone of Hokie Stone here. You’ll certainly have the opportunity to come and touch stone, if needed.”

In addition to Academic 1, the Innovation campus, located two miles from Amazon’s new HQ2 complex at National Landing and nearly 300 miles from Blacksburg, will include three other buildings situated on four acres within phase one of the innovation-centric North Potomac Yard mixed-use development, which will eventually encompass 65 acres. In addition to Virginia Tech’s Amazon-adjacent new campus, phase one of North Potomac Yard will also include commercial and retail-topping residential space. Virginia Tech first announced plans for its Innovation Campus as part of the state’s bid to lure Amazon to the D.C. metro area during the tech giant’s headline-grabbing quasi-search for a home for H2Q.