The last steel beam of the Interdisciplinary Sciences Building (ISB) was signed and hoisted into place in a “topping out” ceremony Oct. 14 at Mary Ann Lee Plaza, just outside the construction site.
The practice of topping-out a new building is an ancient tradition traced back to Scandinavian ceremonies. Originally, builders would place a tree – usually a spruce sapling – on top of a new building to appease the spirits displaced by the construction. Afterward, a toast, or a meal, is offered to the workers.
Fittingly, for Webster, the tradition has been adopted by many cultures around the world. However, the spruce tree for this ceremony was placed atop the beam at it was raised into place.
Webster leadership, along with architects, designers and contractors, were on-hand to witness the placement of the beam into the framework of the building. Attendees were invited to sign the beam beforehand as part of the ceremony.
Webster president Elizabeth Stroble started the invocations by thanking the St. Louis-based team from architecture firm Cannon Design, Inc., for recognizing both the design challenges and opportunities surrounding the construction site.
“The people that we’re celebrating today used their passion for great education and an imagination for the building that matched that passion. And we’re glad to celebrate that,” Stroble said.
Many of the programs moving to the new building have been taught for decades in the basement of Webster Hall, where faculty have completed research, published in journals and guided students with limited facilities.
“Webster Hall is an endearing, eccentric and historic building, but now is the time to say goodbye to the basement,” Dean of Liberal Arts Joseph Stimpfl said.
In addition to contractors, designers, consultants and laborers, Stroble thanked members of the Webster community – students, faculty and staff – for their input on the project.
“They helped us figure out what room ought to go where, what ought to go in that room and how to use the best possible design for this space,” Stroble said.
Sophomore international relations student Brenda Tinnemeyer is a Student Government Association (SGA) senator for the College of Arts and Sciences. Tinnemeyer said she, along with fellow SGA senator Andrew Young, sat with Cannon Design staff to talk about the building and what to expect in regards to other aspects of the design, like furnishings.
“Students should be excited about the variation of rooms within the building. It’s not too formal. The interior spaces are going to be very hangout-friendly,” Tinnemeyer said.
Stroble also recognized St. Louis’ corporate community such as Emerson Electric Co., a heavy contributor to its namesake Webster library, and biotech giant Monsanto.
“Their vision and support for STEM programs makes it real at Webster,” Stroble said. “Anyone who is well aware of the St. Louis economy and St. Louis’ place in the world economy, knows that plant sciences, technology and health sciences are at the core of St. Louis’ ability to serve the region, the nation and the world. And with this building, we are staking our claim to be a part of that.”
Stroble said the Webster archives showed a topping out ceremony was also conducted during the construction of the Sverdrup Business and Technology Complex. Sverdrup opened in 1988.
“Sverdrup met a pressing need for more classrooms on this campus. And so here we are again, meeting a need that is really the need of our students,” Stroble said.
What is most important to Provost Julian Schuster is the external acknowledgment Webster is receiving, in part, because of the construction of the ISB.
“Today, we are seeing how all of this comes together; those external validations and our internal efforts,” Schuster said.
Shuster was referring to the federal grants Webster received last month from the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. Webster is one out of five colleges in Missouri to receive both grants.