Oregon State School of Mechanical, Industrial, and Manufacturing EngineeringPictured at top: A rendition of the robotics lab in the high-bay area of Graf Hall. Below: Graf Hall interior today.

With towering columns of glass and brick, and vast open space, Graf Hall has stood its ground since 1920, the workhorse of engineering research, and not much has changed in nearly 100 years. The building, designed by John Bennes, originally was called the Engineering Laboratory.

Today, Graf Hall is a concrete moniker for Dr. Samuel H. Graf, a remarkable graduate of Oregon Agricultural College and long-time faculty member. Graf earned five engineering degrees, and held many faculty posts, including a stint as the head of experimental engineering from 1912-1920.

Graf gave more than 40 years of service to Oregon State.  According to mechanical engineering’s “Our Faculty and Staff Handbook,” published in 1995 under Dr. Gordon Reistad, Graf was the main force in the buildup of the OSU mechanical engineering department, providing continuity as well as drive, and he had the uncanny ability to “obtain equipment in the face of meager budget allocations.”

“Graf Hall could use a rain man like Samuel Graf,” said school head Dr. Rob Stone. “We have longer-term ideas for an incredible space, but it is a vision that requires resources that have not yet been earmarked for this renovation.”

The hall originally included a materials lab, a hydraulics lab, and a steam and gas engine lab.

“Traditionally the open space in Graf has been used for research and educational labs,” Stone said.

“We see that happening with the renovation. I think we are looking at a very state-of-the-art research space with high potential to attract industry clients into the building to work with our teams,” Stone said.

The main goal of the renovation is to create destination for MIME robotics and investment research. Robotics will move into the second and third floors of Graf Hall, with open space in the high bay for robotics movement, offices on the third floor and areas for the various labs.

 According to associate professor Dr. Bill Smart, the vision could create a top-notch robotics research facility.

“The new space in Graf, once we get it renovated, will be an excellent shared, collaborative space for the robotics group. It promises to be one of the best spaces in the country for the type of robotics that we do here at OSU: collaborative, multidisciplinary, and targeted at real-world problems,” Smart said.

As with many a building approaching the century mark, Graf Hall’s energy efficiency and facility systems are not at a modern standard, explains MIME facilities manager Brian Jensen.

“Buildings one hundred years ago simply were not designed with a concern for fuel resources. Today, the basic motto of historic preservation of a building is ‘don’t change the look of the building,’” Jensen said.

For example, to replace the hundreds of single-pane glass lites would require custom design. A heat pump on the roof cannot be visible when approaching the building, Jensen explains.

The immediate goal of the project is not historic restoration, but simply to solve the space crunch stemming from MIME’s rapid growth. The various labs are staged for the move, but many opportunities for outside investment remain.

For example, the building ventilation system should be updated. The building is a research hub for students within its nine first-floor research bays. This area sees most of the action for senior design classes.

The SAE Composites lab, for example, where molding of the race car chassis occurs, is housed in Graf. The HVAC system, which handles the dust and vapors of student research teams, now must be sure to cool the air when the delicate electronics of robotics meet summer heat.

The full renovation will cost an estimated $16 million, and MIME is moving forward in a phased approach, starting with a $4 million block of investment. The vision promises to be a worthy endeavor.

“The renovations will help to demonstrate OSU’s commitment in robotics to the world at large: successfully competing for top-tier graduate students will require that we offer them resources comparable to what they would find at the current ‘big name’ engineering schools or rising stars in the field such as Johns Hopkins and Georgia Tech, both of which have recently invested in collaborative research facilities for robotics,” said Stone.