University of Maryland, Physical Sciences Complex

University of Maryland Physical Sciences Complex

University of Maryland, Physical Sciences Complex

An Oculus to the Skies

The University of Maryland is moving towards a multi-disciplinary approach to physical science, combining theoretical and applied sciences. Beginning with a clear campus master plan, the Physical Sciences Facility illustrates an approach to weave various disciplines not only into the facility , but also into the fabric of the campus.

This contemporary brick and glass building gracefully responds to the Neo-Georgian campus. Solid-brick ends connect the existing physics building and anchor the central glass component, which is raised off of the ground plane to maintain vital pedestrian paths. Visitors look to the ground as they pass under the building, where they encounter an element of surprise: an open-air courtyard. Clad in individually-cut clear and red glass panels, the dramatic elliptical form forces people to look up through an “oculus to the skies.” This spontaneous reaction—to look to the earth and then to the skies—tangibly captures the metaphor of the building: a connection between earth and skies through the exploration of physics and astronomy. By night, the lighted oculus has a distinctive, high-tech appearance—an instant landmark.

University of Maryland Physical Sciences

Preserving the Physics Tea

Inside the building, the glass ellipse energizes shared space. Pulling offices out of the labs, and co-locating them around the ellipse in an open collaboration zone, physicists and astronomers—practical, hands-on thinkers and theorists—interact naturally. It is a design in which “negative space” enhances visibility, connects people, and fosters interaction. Transparent and open space was designed not only for the occupants of the building, but also to encourage interaction among faculty and students across the academic community. Located between the residential and academic sides of the campus, students walk through the courtyard where they see activities taking place inside—including faculty and students gathering in the café for the daily Physics Tea—a dynamic advertisement for the physics department.

Bolstering a Research Enterprise

Laboratories are distributed throughout the building with the more exacting physics labs below grade, and the less structurally-intense astronomy labs and offices contained in the three-story tower. Also, the labs are not assigned, changing as programs change, an efficient use of expensive space. Dramatic, spiral communicating stairs on opposite sides of the ellipse connect all levels of the facility. Labs designed for research at the nano-scale are located below grade, to minimize vibration and isolate the labs from electromagnetic and radio-frequency interference.

University of Maryland Physical Sciences Complex
University of Maryland

College Park, MD
United States

158,000 sf (14,680 m²)
LEED Gold Certified


Merit Award (2014)
Built: Open Category
American Institute of Architects, New Jersey Chapter
Award of Merit (2014)
Higher Education/Research category
Engineering News-Record, Mid-Atlantic