Mitchell Hall design preview receives Board of Visitors approval
The Board of Visitors approval marks an important milestone in the project’s planning and design phase and signifies that Mitchell Hall is progressing as scheduled.
For decades now, many aspiring Hokie engineers have called Randolph Hall their campus home — at least for a semester or two — while pursuing their studies at Virginia Tech. That might leave Mitchell Hall, Randolph’s planned replacement, quite the legacy to live up to, but it’s a challenge that the university and College of Engineering are excited to pursue.
Plans for the new Mitchell Hall call for an impressive hub of engineering classrooms, labs, and meeting and study space in what will encompass 284,000 square feet of dynamic student and faculty activity.
Now that grand vision is one step closer to becoming a reality, as the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors approved Mitchell Hall’s design preview at its November meeting. The move marks an important milestone in the project’s planning and design phase and signifies that Mitchell Hall's conceptual design is progressing as scheduled, thanks in large part to substantial donor support.
Last year, Norris Mitchell ’58 and his wife, Wendy, committed a record-breaking $35 million toward the project’s construction as well as activities and programming that will be housed within the completed building. That generosity helped pave the way for a full authorization of funding for Mitchell Hall from the General Assembly this past summer.
That funding represents a significant investment by the commonwealth – not only in Virginia Tech, but also in the many engineering students, faculty, and research projects that stand to benefit from what will be the largest academic building on the university’s Blacksburg campus.
“Wendy and I are incredibly pleased with the advancements Virginia Tech has made in the planning of Mitchell Hall,” said Norris Mitchell. “We are gratified to know that the building will be available for additional qualified engineering students and that all students will benefit from the building’s up-to-date facilities for the foreseeable future.”
Mitchell Hall will house the Kevin T. Crofton Department of Aerospace and Ocean Engineering and the Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Diversity, and it will provide instructional and research labs for several additional engineering departments. It will offer general assignment classrooms, intentional space for student advising and recruitment activities, design team and project workspace, and informal meeting and study areas for all Virginia Tech students.
Long calling Randolph Hall home, the Stability Wind Tunnel and experiential learning labs for first-year engineering students will find their place in Mitchell Hall as well with much improved accommodations.
“Not only will every Virginia Tech engineering student benefit from Mitchell Hall’s flexible spaces and improved facilities, but its exterior features will transform the university’s North Academic District in ways that are both functional and attractive for all faculty, staff, students, and campus visitors,” said Julia M. Ross, the Paul and Dorothea Torgersen Dean of Engineering. “It will play an important role in both student and faculty recruitment and retention, and it will also provide much-needed space for experiential learning, all of which are important priorities outlined in the college’s strategic plan.”
Liza Morris, assistant vice president for planning and university architect, also has noted Mitchell Hall’s potential to reshape the north side of campus in accordance with the university’s master plan, a point she emphasized to the Board of Visitors during the project’s design review at the November meeting.
In particular, Morris highlighted the improved appearance, intuitive wayfinding, and accessible routes afforded by the new Green Link that will be created between Mitchell Hall and Hancock Hall. This corridor, which will require modifying the existing footprint of Hancock, represents a significant site improvement that aligns with Virginia Tech’s universal design approach to prioritize intuitive accessibility and pedestrian flow.
“There are also several unique interior features that evolved during the design of Mitchell Hall,” said Morris. “For example, the large central atrium will provide much-needed natural light into the center of each large floor plate. This effect is not only beneficial from a sustainability and wellness perspective, but it also assists with internal circulation throughout this large building by providing people subtle cues for directionality.”
Morris also pointed out Mitchell Hall’s classroom-in-the-round, an innovative lecture forum with a central podium surrounded by curved rows arranged in concentric circles with a curved screen overhead. The classroom will be the first of its kind on the Virginia Tech campus.
“This format creates intimacy within a large 200-person lecture hall because every person is within a few rows of the speaker,” said Morris. “The gently sloping, accessible floor creates a great environment to connect students with their instructor and immersive content. We observed its effect and effectiveness first hand at another university and look forward to adding this option to the classroom portfolio.”
In addition to the enhanced delivery of an engineering education to students, Mitchell Hall will open doors to new industry partnerships with leading corporations and institutions around the globe, which could have a significant impact on the economic stability and vitality of Blacksburg and beyond. These opportunities, combined with Virginia Tech’s commitment to help Virginia meet its targets for talent development in a myriad of engineering fields, underpinned the university’s proposal for state investment in the Mitchell Hall project.
“Virginia Tech continues to provide crucial access to a strong engineering education, which is essential in helping the commonwealth meet many of its goals,” said Del. Barry Knight, R-Virginia Beach, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee who supported the project’s funding. “I look forward to seeing the many beneficial results of this capital investment in one of the state’s leading institutions for engineering instruction and research.”
Currently, Randolph Hall hosts multiple College of Engineering departments and serves more than 2,300 undergraduate and 500 graduate students. Constructed in two phases between 1952 and 1959, the existing 166,000-square-foot building will be replaced with a Mitchell Hall that’s slated to add over 70 percent more gross square feet in the same footprint.
Mitchell Hall will modernize Randolph’s outdated building systems, enhance accessibility, incorporate state-of-the art sustainability features, and embody the university’s focus on engineering and science “on display” in new campus buildings.