UW News

February 16, 2017

New UW Computer Science & Engineering building receives $5M gift from Charles and Lisa Simonyi

Longtime philanthropists Charles and Lisa Simonyi have given a second Computer Science & Engineering (CSE) building on the University of Washington’s Seattle campus a major boost with a $5 million gift.

Charles and Lisa Simonyi

Charles and Lisa Simonyi

The architect of Word and other core Microsoft programs and the founder of Intentional Software, Charles Simonyi is an innovator and philanthropist who has pushed the boundaries of technology and space travel. Lisa Simonyi, who holds degrees in corporate communication and international management, is an entrepreneur and philanthropist who serves on the boards of multiple civic and cultural organizations, including the UW Foundation Board. The couple’s gift will help fund construction of a new 135,000-square-foot building that will provide space for the UW Department of Computer Science & Engineering to double the number annual degrees it awards.

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A major feature of the new building will be spaces designed to give undergraduate students a strong sense of belonging and purpose. The most prominent of these spaces will be a “home away from home” for CSE majors on the east end of the main floor. This space where students will be able to study and collaborate will be named the Charles & Lisa Simonyi Undergraduate Commons in recognition of the couple’s generous support.

rendering of student commons

The Charles & Lisa Simonyi Undergraduate Commons is a large space on the main floor of the new UW CSE building where students can study, work, collaborate and relax.LMN Architects

“Innovation is at its best when it includes a variety of insights and perspectives, and this generous gift will provide a space where our students can gather to share ideas and begin the next wave of discovery in the world of computer science,” UW President Ana Mari Cauce said. “I want to thank Charles and Lisa Simonyi for their investment, which will help provide an enriched student experience and better position the UW to meet the region’s workforce demands.”

“The need for more computer scientists and computer engineers in the Puget Sound region to build on the legacy of innovation here is well known, and this new building will help the UW meet that need,” said Charles and Lisa Simonyi. “We are pleased to support this expansion of the UW’s CSE program and are excited to see what new ideas and opportunities for collaboration will be inspired by the commons space.”

UW CSE is raising $110 million from public and private sources for a second building to complement the Paul G. Allen Center for Computer Science & Engineering and dramatically enhance the department’s ability to serve Washington’s students and employers. At a time when companies are clamoring for qualified employees, two-thirds of qualified UW students seeking to pursue computer science or computer engineering degrees are being turned away for lack of space.

In addition, students in all fields recognize the value of computer science knowledge in today’s technology-driven economy. Demand for UW CSE’s introductory courses is booming, with total enrollment surpassing 5,000 in the most recent year.

In addition to the Charles & Lisa Simonyi Undergraduate Commons, key elements of the new CSE building include the 250-seat Amazon Auditorium, a flexible event space to be known as the Zillow Commons, a sophisticated maker space, workspaces for computer animation and other capstone projects, a 3,000-square-foot robotics lab, and the Microsoft Café, which will serve as an interaction hub for all UW Engineering programs located in that part of campus.

The building, which broke ground last month, is expected to be completed by the end of 2018 and ready for occupancy in early 2019.

“Expanding access to computer science capacity is not only important to students looking to take part in the digital economy, but to every single employer in this state,” said Brad Smith, president of Microsoft and leader of the CSE campaign committee. “We hope that commitments such as the Simonyis’ gift will continue to inspire others to support this project, which is so vital to the future of Washington state.”

For more information, contact Ed Lazowska, Bill & Melinda Gates Chair in Computer Science & Engineering, at lazowska@uw.edu.