May 24, 2023

Inside … the Scaife Hall addition is high


The newly opened addition to Scaife Hall is already alive with medical students on many of its gleaming floors. The planners were looking for a fresh entryway to the medical school along with "large, open classrooms and bright, modern spaces for student interactions," says Business and Operations spokesperson Julie LaBar, not to mention the latest in learning tech — and they seem to have gotten it.

Our recent tour started at the top, on the seventh floor, with its gross anatomy labs — for real practice and for virtual reality. Things get very real, very quickly on this floor, as the central hallway is lined with a museum of preserved medical specimens behind glass, some still identifiable as human, others only a doctor would recognize.

Inside the smaller lab our tour guide — Michael A. Barbarino, senior project manager in the Health Sciences’ Office of Space Management — pointed out features designed to keep the space ultra-clean, from a special cove lining the base of each wall to block spilled liquids from going under the baseboards, to the chemical seal on the floor's vinyl.

In the larger gross anatomy lab, which runs the full width of the addition, there were 27 shiny metal tables, skeletons and more medical specimens (models, this time) in glass cases along the walls, plus video cameras and enough large screens to rival the newly revamped lounge atop the Petersen Events Center.

The cameras and screens will help connect this room to the one next door — the AR/VR (augmented reality and virtual reality) lab, which had one of its five anatomage tables ready to go. Real-time surgery holograms will be projected there, which can be "blown up" for closer examination at the touch of a student's hand, while the table itself can be used horizontally or vertically. In fact, much of seating in the room is mobile so students can gather round the projection. And all the electrical systems for this newest of new technologies run under the room's slightly raised floor, freeing more space in the place.

Students are already learning how to use this tech. When Barbarino opened the door of the gross anatomy lab, he immediately announced: "And we have company." Four of the tables were occupied by white body bags, obviously full, from their outline. That morning they were awaiting the start of a class for UPMC residents and neurosurgery researchers on Microsoft's HoloLens technology, which combines imagery from both the holographic and real events.

Floor seven also has new lab support spaces, locker rooms, changing rooms, showers, offices, a dry lab for the math/physics/engineering side of medicine and a wet lab for chemistry and smaller anatomical lessons. The latter runs the length of the addition and seats 84 at long tables that, like most everything in this addition, can be reconfigured. Its windows are shaded by sun and rain screens in a triangular design that echoes the architecture of the existing Scaife exterior. And it looks out on a new patio below it, along the street, with its tiled floor, benches and tables of wood and steel and cantilevered conversation railing.

Of course, the building has elevators, but each floor is also accessible by a wide staircase against the Lothrop Street side of the addition, which feels sunny and open to the world thanks to large windows along its length. Each floor has a corridor ringing it and a central, crossing corridor, as well as its own crossover to the original building, and each floor has a different color theme for the walls and accents.

Floor six is perhaps the lowest-tech area but embodies what could be the newest idea. It is designed for use by medical students only — a place for them to decompress, Barbarino explains. There are group rooms large and small, for studying together or alone, with flexible configurations, as well as a break room, more lockers and an activity room.

The activity room features pool and ping pong tables overseen by a life-size cutout of Nicolas Cage in a leopard-collared leather jacket — requested by students last year, Barbarino explains — alongside videogame chairs and a lava lamp. For less-active getaways, there is a break room with fridges and microwaves and a quiet room, with four cots behind privacy curtains.

The student-focused amenities continue on floor five, with more group study rooms and a lounge featuring a gas fireplace built from stone and granite salvaged from the two-story auditorium that this addition replaced. The lounge has several levels — think of a sunken living room in reverse — and USBs and power at comfy tablet tables, with their swivel-in desk tops. This floor also has a bridge to the Starzl Biomedical Science Tower and the next-door parking garage, with its own view down to a newly planted area on the side of the building.

At the center of this floor is a large open atrium with a view down to the fourth floor. Also spanning two floors is a 160-student "team-based learning" classroom which is, like most classrooms in the addition, reconfigurable in seating, tabletops and overall size. In fact the room can be divided in two, and is equipped with giant screens that descend from the ceiling, and many monitors on the walls.

Level four has another student-requested feature: a Panera Bread café, right inside the main building entrance on Terrace Street, already serving food. In the other half of the main room on four, workers were still wiring a two-floor audiovisual wall, which can be two different floor-height displays or one spanning floors four and five, showing everything from event coverage to art installations. It can also be viewed from out on Lothrop Street.

Floor four is also the balcony level of the new auditorium — or auditoria, since it can be split into two, thanks to a descending soundproof partition. The entire thing seats 600 at full capacity, with 286 fixed seats in back and 311 movable seats in front, and power at each very comfortable chair.

The third floor contains more flexible classrooms, with movable seating, tables that can flip up and be pushed aside, partitions and cameras for remote learning. The next floor down — the mezzanine level — has the building's new Falk Library entrance, and more very mobile classroom and study spaces, while the second floor contains the Library Study Lounge with carrels and group study rooms, furnished in everything from upholstered chairs to diner-booth-type seating.

The building is going for the LEED Silver rating for environmental friendliness and expects to have solar panels added in 2024. But what do students think so far? "They are very happy," Barbarino says, with "the bright and airy feeling to the space and the state of the art on the technology side." The official grand opening will be scheduled for early August.

Marty Levine is a staff writer for the University Times. Reach him at [email protected] or 412-758-4859.

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