Design Physical Space that Has Broad Appeal (Case Study 1)

Affecting Women’s Entry and Persistence in Computing through Physical Space

Hank Levy, Chair of the University of Washington’s Department of Computer Science & Engineering, described the design of a new building that applied principles supported by research on stereotypes and the environment. The new building is one of many actions the department takes for promoting diversity.

The Paul G. Allen Center for Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Washington opened in 2003. Among its major goals, the building was intended to be warm, welcoming, and “non-techy” in appearance. All spaces are carpeted to give it a soft feel, and the extensive use of cherry wood trim adds warmth. Unlike most academic buildings, there are no conference or technical posters lining the hallways. Instead, occupants and visitors see a collection of original paintings, prints, and photographs from 22 university-affiliated artists whenever they enter or leave a floor in the building. This artwork is the only wall covering in the building. Computer labs in the basement have colorful walls adorned with large nature photographs. Overall, the goal was to make the Allen Center a people-oriented building that surrounds users with softness, warmth, and a celebration of aesthetics.

Levy advised that we be aware of the message that our environment communicates and design it to convey a friendly and welcoming feel to all visitors. The graph below suggests that the new building may be accomplishing that goal at the University of Washington and, along with the department’s other diversity initiatives, contributing to increases in women’s representation at a time when peer institutions saw continued declines.


  • Case Study Contributors: Hank Levy

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Author: J. McGrath Cohoon