Who Gives a SHED?

Photography by Travis LaCoss

The sounds of drilling, metal being pounded into the ground and the abrasive tones of heavy machinery have polluted campus since early 2021.

Even though the construction has been a publicized spectacle, complete with an extensive public relations campaign and tens of millions in donations, few students know what the SHED is going to contain or what the university plans for it to become.

Heading the Project

For over 21 years, Mark Williams has been running construction projects for RIT’s campus. From the ESL Global Cybersecurity Institute and the Golisano Institute for Sustainability to MAGIC Spell Studios and more, Williams has been one of the main players in building the new RIT.

“My goal has always been to move away from brick,” he said. “There’s already too much brick.”

Despite being in the construction business for more than four decades, Williams knew that he had his work cut out for him when he first joined RIT’s construction team.

“The guy that interviewed me said we’re going to do $400 million worth of work in the next 10 years, and I thought, ‘Well, he’s out of his mind. There’s no way that we could possibly do that kind of work,’” recalled Williams. “We eclipsed that and more.”

Floor Plans

The first thing students can see upon entering the SHED from the quarter mile is the “Large Project Team Space.” The rooms resemble something in between a large, collaborative classroom and a busy workshop filled with tools and gadgets.

“[Students] could do glass flame work and demonstrations, as well as finished product showcases,” explained Williams.

A multitude of tools and workshop equipment is provided for hands-on building in the rooms that make up the A level.

The largest room on the A floor is the “Premier Makerspace,” which can be named after you for the low price of $3 million. Similar to the Large Project Team Space, the 7,600-square-foot area has metal and wood-working tools, a spray paint booth, dust collection and more for building. RIT’s website claims that “the space will be loud, dirty, and full of students making, learning, exploring and sharing.”

The A level also has a 3D printing lab, as well as multiple practice rooms where students can play their musical instruments. Moreover, if you stand in the center of the Atrium, located in the heart of the SHED, you can see a giant video display wall that showcases projects happening all across RIT.

The SHED has been designed with students in mind, especially when it comes to providing quiet study spaces. The facility has a number of rubber pads and floating floor slabs that, according to Williams, block the sound of heavy machinery nearby.

The first floor is the most spacious, housing more makerspaces and a 4,300-square- foot “glass box” theater. This theater can hold 180 people with its multiple levels of seating, including a mezzanine balcony. Two of the three main walls that house the the- ater consist of glass. If a production wants technical lighting, there are two layers of blinds, one for shading and one for completely blocking out light. This gives the production company more freedom to light the stage however they see fit.

The theater also has smoke EVAC shutters on the ceiling for productions that contain fog or other effects that require ventilation. “We’ve tried to think of all the different scenarios people might want to do,” said Williams.

Following the musical theme of the first floor, the SHED houses a dance studio adjacent to the black box theater. Equipped with a sprung floor, mirrored walls, ballet bars, changing rooms, showers and more, this space is designed to include everything that a dance group may need for any performance.

RIT also plans to build a new “Music Performance Theater,” a separate building adjacent to Engineering Hall and Institute Hall. The university expects the future theater to be finished by 2025, but Williams is not worried about the SHED possibly stealing its thunder.

“[The Music Performance Theater] seats 750 people as opposed to [the SHED’s glass box theater], which seats about 150 people,” said Williams. “You’re a lot more intimately involved [in the SHED] as opposed to sitting back in a huge 700-seat theater.”

The second floor houses even more makerspaces, specifically for biomedical projects, textiles, printing and electronics. It also houses the first of many “active classrooms,” spaces that seat up to 120 students and are designed to encourage “collaboration, creativity, communication, and critical thinking.”

The third and fourth floors of the SHED contain two additional active classrooms. The third floor of the library is filled with 10 classrooms, study rooms and a computer lab.

One of the more obvious features of the SHED is the liberal use of glass paneling both inside and outside the building. An anonymous student queried Reporter on whether the glass exterior would disrupt the local bird population, but Williams dispelled this concern.

“We actually hired a bird specialist to talk about that very thing because of all the glass,” said Williams.

While Williams admits that birds hitting the SHED is inevitable, the aforementioned “bird specialist,” who was brought in from the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology, designed the facility to minimize bird casualties.

Student Reactions

Even during its initial planning stages, the student body has expressed ambivalence regarding the SHED’s construction.

A recent survey conducted by Reporter asked 77 undergraduate and graduate RIT students about their thoughts on the project. 33.8% of students claimed to be “Happy/Excited,” whereas 36.4% felt “Indifferent” and 29.9% were “Disappointed/Unhappy.”

This disapproval may be the result of constant construction on campus, as well as the lack of accessible information provided in the SHED’s early phases.

Lorenzo Boccio, a third year Game Design and Development major, expressed his mixed feelings about the SHED.

“The construction is annoying; it’s loud,” Boccio said. “I can see it being useful, but I can also see it being just another building.”

Yet, other students like Ayanna Smith, a fourth year Graphic Media Science and Technology student, and Alecia Hart, a fourth year Exercise Science major, are optimistic about what the SHED provides.

“I am in some student clubs, so I am really excited to see how I can use these spaces,” noted Smith, “I really cannot wait to see what it looks like.”

“I am optimistic to see how it will be used and the purpose of it being placed right in the middle of campus,” said Hart.

With the SHED finally open to the public this fall, students can now determine for themselves whether or not the project was worth $120 million.