How construction trends shape the lives and deaths of buildings on campus

Savana Dunning

W.R. Woolrich (WRW) Laboratories, home of the aerospace engineering department, will be demolished in 2019. The 60-year-old structure was built during one of the biggest waves of construction in campus history and is one example of how development trends shape the life and death of buildings on campus. “I have mixed feelings,” said Drew McNeely, an aerospace engineering graduate student. “This building has a lot of history. I know it’s not the greatest building in the world, but a lot of people that I admired once walked these hallways.”

WRW was built in 1958 during a 30-year trend in campus building construction that produced half of all buildings on campus. Since the building of the original 40 Acres in 1883, peaks in building construction have formed over time, shaped by both American and architectural history. 

The first peak was in the 1930s after an increase in funds allowed for campus expansion. This initiated the creation of the Paul Cret Campus Master Plan which quintupled the size of campus and included the construction of the Main Building and the Texas Union building. 

The next big waves, which were responsible for half of the campus buildings, came after World War II in 1945 and again in the ‘60s and ‘70s. This era saw an increase both in student population and the creation of buildings such as the Perry-Castañeda Library and Jester Dormitory.

“Baby Boomers created a wave in the 70s that required a lot of infrastructure to be built,” said David Rea, project management and construction services associate vice president. “There’s a number of factors (for the construction wave) but that was a big factor.”

A problem that arises in construction waves is many of these buildings are over 35-years-old. Rea said the needs of the science departments outgrew the abilities of many of the science buildings built in the late 50s to late 70s. Some such as Welch Hall’s 1978 wing just need renovation, but others such as the WRW are easier to demolish and replace, Rea said. 

“The cost of renovation for a science building that’s worn out is almost the same cost as (a) new building,” Rea said. “It’s easier to get philanthropic support for new versus renovation, and it’s harder for an older science building to really meet the needs of new science. The dimensions are not built the way current lab buildings need.”

The Cockrell School of Engineering has its own facility construction master plan that it developed in compliance with the current Campus Master Plan.
Included in it is the deconstruction of WRW and the construction of its replacement, details of which have not been set. The aerospace engineering department will move into an office building on campus in between demolition and new construction.

John Ekerdt, the associate dean of research for Cockrell School of Engineering, said older buildings need to be replaced to accommodate the ever evolving nature of scientific fields.

“When you look at some of the buildings, at the engineering buildings in particular … where there’s heavy research going on in laboratories, the needs have evolved over time,” Ekerdt said. “Not only the ways in which they work but what would have been deemed efficient and approved practices years ago have evolved.”