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Allen School celebrates dedication of the new Bill & Melinda Gates Center for Computer Science & Engineering

Looking up at the building facade and entrance sign of the Bill & Melinda Gates Center for Computer Science & Engineering against a deep blue sky.
Photo credit: Mark Stone/University of Washington

Yesterday, nearly 300 friends of the Paul G. Allen School gathered to celebrate the dedication of the new Bill & Melinda Gates Center for Computer Science & Engineering on the UW Seattle campus. UW and Allen School leadership were joined onstage by special guests Bill Gates, Washington Governor Jay Inslee, and Microsoft President & Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith in thanking the more than 500 individual donors, local technology companies, and state taxpayers for their support of the project.

The day marked not only the opening of a new building, but also the prospect of a new era of computer science education and impact. “The Gates Center isn’t just a building, it’s a statement about our vision of the future,” said Allen School Director Hank Levy. “We have created a world-class computer science program here, in part because of our focus on technology that helps to solve the world’s biggest challenges. This building enables us to grow those efforts and tackle even bigger challenges.”

One of the ways in which the new building will enable the school to grow its impact is by providing the physical capacity to serve more students. “It’s first and foremost a vehicle for increasing opportunity for Washington’s students,” said UW President Ana Mari Cauce. “Because that’s what we do here, in this outstanding building and all across our campuses. It’s what drives the talented faculty who teach our students and advance discovery. It’s why so many students are eager to come here to learn — both to the University and to this program.”

The spacious and open Gates Center atrium, with sunlight streaming down onto a wooden staircase in the middle of the space. A digital display encased in wood occupies part of one wall. The walkways of two upper floors are visible.
Mark Stone/University of Washington

Cauce highlighted the care and thought that went into the design of the building, which is focused on increasing student capacity and enriching the student experience. The building’s entire first floor is dedicated to the needs of Allen School majors, including a student services center, an undergraduate commons, meeting and collaboration spaces, computer labs and support, and capstone project rooms. The Gates Center also provides much-needed instructional space, in the form of several large classrooms and seminar rooms along with a 240-seat auditorium, and numerous collaboration and community spaces — including a cafe open to the campus and the public, and a 3,000-square-foot events center for hosting workshops, research demos, career fairs, and other community-oriented events.

Emphasizing that even more important than the new building is what goes on inside, Brad Smith — who led the fundraising campaign for the building — saluted the assembled guests who helped make the vision of the Bill & Melinda Gates Center a reality. “It is extraordinary to just look across this room and see the faces of all of the people who contributed so much,” Smith said. “You didn’t hang up when the phone rang. We rolled up our sleeves together. More than 500 people donated their personal funds to this building.” Among them, he noted, were the Friends of Bill & Melinda Gates, a group of more than a dozen couples, led by Charles and Lisa Simonyi, who joined Microsoft in providing a gift to name the building in the Gateses’ honor.

Smith also acknowledged local companies such as Amazon and Zillow that joined Microsoft in supporting the project. “It was a wonderful journey that gave many of us an opportunity to partner together — even competitors,” he noted. “Other companies in Seattle really stepped up.”

A room full of people seated in the center or standing along the sides listens to Governor Jay Inslee speaking from a podium.
Governor Jay Inslee. Photo credit: Matt Hagen

In addition to enabling the Allen School to serve more students, those efforts will also help the school and the UW to stay at the forefront of the computing field. Laboratories in the Gates Center include a wet lab to support the school’s work at the intersection of information technology and molecular engineering; the UW Reality Lab, which focuses on advancing the state of the art in augmented and virtual reality education and research; the Center for Neurotechnology, which aims to use technology to revolutionize the treatment of debilitating neurological conditions; and a 3,000-square-foot robotics laboratory.

Governor Jay Inslee — a proud Husky — noted that the impact of the new building and its inhabitants would extend far beyond their core focus. “This is so much beyond the world of computing,” Inslee said, “because the world of computing feeds every single thing that we’re growing our economy and our society on now.”

Of the 500 donors Smith mentioned, roughly 300 are Allen School alumni. That means nearly 200 people without an alumni connection to the school recognized the potential impact and threw their support behind the project. “From the bottom of my heart, thanks to all of you for what you’ve done to make this amazing building a reality,” said Allen School professor Ed Lazowska.

Hank Levy at the podium, with five people standing in a row behind, all raising their glasses in a toast against a purple backdrop.
Bill Gates, Brad Smith, Jay Inslee, Ana Mari Cauce, Ed Lazowska, Hank Levy. Matt Hagen

Before the program began, Lazowska and Levy had taken Bill Gates, Cauce and Smith on a tour of the new building, visiting several labs and stopping to talk with students along the way. “It was fantastic to take the tour and not only see that it’s an incredible building, but to see some of the great work going on here,” Gates said to the assembled crowd later. Saying that he and Melinda are honored to have a building named after them that will increase the capacity of the school associated with Paul G. Allen, Gates also paid tribute to his late friend and collaborator who passed away last October.

“It would’ve been great if Paul could have been here,” he said. “He deserves so much credit for what happened at Microsoft and always believing in innovation and believing in the University of Washington. So hopefully he somewhere can appreciate the great development that is taking place here.”

Read the UW News release here, GeekWire articles on the building opening here and the dedication here, and a related Seattle Times editorial here.

View more photos of the day’s events below.

The facade of the Bill & Melinda Gates Center, a long, subtly curved four-story building comprising terracotta tiles interspersed with glass windows and matte black metal panels, with a burst of sunlight peeking over the edge of the roof.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Center provides the Paul G. Allen School with sufficient space to double annual degree production. Mark Stone/University of Washington

A group of faculty and students gather and pose for a selfie with Bill Gates in a lab.
Bill Gates stops by the new wet lab for a selfie with members of the Molecular Information Systems Laboratory. Matt Hagen

A group of four people stand in front of a wall-size digital display, one of whom interacts with the touchscreen.
Bill Gates checks out the interactive wall highlighting the impact of computing on the Seattle region and the world with Ed Lazowska and Hank Levy. Matt Hagen

A small group of people standing in the middle of a room with computer desks against the wall and the windows. Someone wearing a combination of wires and a camera on their head is talking while gesturing toward a fluffy malamute dog wearing similar equipment.
Ana Mari Cauce, Brad Smith and Bill Gates are treated to a demonstration of a new machine learning system based on canine perception. Matt Hagen

People walk through a crowded cafe.
Bill Gates visits the new Microsoft Cafe on the first floor of the Bill & Melinda Gates Center. Matt Hagen
Two rows of smiling college students dressed in purple Allen School-branded shirts flanking the purple carpet, waiting to welcome guests to the dedication event.
Allen School undergraduate students are ready to welcome guests and give tours of the Bill & Melinda Gates Center. Matt Hagen
UW President Ana Mari Cauce speaks at a podium.
UW President Ana Mari Cauce stresses the impact of the Bill & Melinda Gates Center in terms of expanding opportunities for Washington’s students. Matt Hagen
A row of five people dressed in business attire seated along a wall laughing.
One of many light-hearted moments onstage at the dedication of the Bill & Melinda Gates Center. Matt Hagen
A row of four people in business attire standing onstage against a purple backdrop. The two people in the center are holding rectangular metal plaques depicting portraits of the other two.
Michael Bragg, Dean of the UW College of Engineering, joins Ana Mari Cauce in a surprise tribute to Ed Lazowska and Hank Levy. Matt Hagen
Bill Gates speaks at a podium against a purple backdrop.
A poignant moment in the program came when Bill Gates remembered his friend and Microsoft co-founder, the late Paul G. Allen. Matt Hagen
Two people standing outside of floor-to-ceiling glass doors with a white frosted sign on the glass that reads Charles & LIsa Simonyi Undergraduate Commons.
Lisa and Charles Simonyi, who co-led the effort to name the building for the Gateses, check out the Undergraduate Commons named in their honor. Lisa Simonyi
A girl looks with curiosity at a PR2 robot with its arm outstretched.
After the dedication, guests were invited to explore the building. Here, a future CSE major meets one of the Allen School’s many robots. Matt Hagen