A groundbreaking building in 1981, the Sherman Fairchild Biochemistry Building received a 2012 sustainable, flexible, and bright face lift from Payette.


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The laboratory has a strong connection to the exterior, and the design promotes deep natural light penetration into the center of the existing building. Image: Payette   

Following Harvard University’s creation of the Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology Department, a new home was sought; ultimately resulting in the rebirth of the. The building was considered groundbreaking at its completion in 1981, known as one of the world's first biochemistry buildings. However, 30 years later, it desperately needed renovating to meet the department's growing needs.

It is for this forward-thinking, outside-the-box transformation that R&D Magazine awards Payette’s design with a Special Mention – Renovation Award in the 2013 Laboratory of the Year competition.

Density drives design, flexibility
The new laboratory design for the building focuses on the 50% increase in population density, while changing the fundamental relationship between bench-based and equipment-based laboratory space. Support spaces in research facilities are traditionally located within the center of the building in a series of rooms without natural daylight and disconnected from the bench area. However, the new design altered this relationship by locating an entire zone of support spaces—primarily tissue culture—along the exterior wall. This allowed as much daylight as possible into the support spaces, letting light penetrate deep into the center of the building.

“Many new laboratories that are being designed and built today are based on laboratory models that were innovative when they were developed in the 80s or 90s, but they don’t always reflect the use patterns of science today,” says James Collins Jr., FAIA, principal-in-charge of the project, Payette, Boston.

The permeable central support zone of the laboratory fosters a coherent laboratory culture and includes frequent cross connections to enhance connectivity and shared resources and equipment that allow for higher density at individual benches. Automatic horizontal sliding doors promote sterile practices and increase space for equipment. The zoning approach, validated by shadow studies, allows flexibility for each floor to alter the location of the open bench area and the support zones.

A sustainable solution
The renovation of the five-story laboratory achieved LEED CI-Platinum certification, earning 95 points out of the 110 possible. It holds the highest LEED points for any research laboratory in the world.

The team started with setting the makeup air rate in the building to 1 cfm/sf. This criterion decreased air handler size and ductwork and met the flexibility goals for fume hood density, no additional ventilation was required.

Next, the team included hydronic-based cooling devices to mitigate any additional cooling loads in a particular space. This strategy allowed for right-sizing cooling equipment based on each particular space’s needs and reduced the building's overall energy use. Typically, a chilled beam could provide the necessary cooling, but in particularly high heat load spaces, high-temperature cooling fan coil units were utilized. The use of a heat shift chiller accomplished minimization of waste heat by shifting heat rejection at equipment to preheat at low load spaces through the hydronic system. Natural ventilation was also maintained at non-laboratory spaces, providing a reduction in cooling requirements during seasonal periods.

The building also includes low-emitting materials throughout. 98% of the equipment and appliances by rated power are ENERGY STAR certified in the building.

Lighting the way
To execute an efficient laboratory lighting design, Payette proposed a task-ambient approach utilizing a custom-designed LED task light.

“In this laboratory we minimized the ambient lighting and maximized the task lighting,” says Collins. “The added benefit of a task light is that you can get the light source closer to the place where scientists need the light—the bench.”

In many cases the task light is provided at the underside of the lowest shelf on the bench. However, this location is easily blocked by equipment and does not reach the bench's leading edge. Alternatively, the Payette team designed the new fixture to attach to the leading edge of an extended upper shelf.

Each bench has its own task light that is individually controlled. “The light that we custom-designed has an integral motion sensor that looks at the area of only the bench it is serving,” says Jeff DeGregorio, AIA, associate principal, Payette. When a researcher arrives at their bench, they turn on the task light if additional light is required beyond that provided by the ambient lighting. If they leave for an extended period of time, the light automatically turns off. The lighting control is down to a person-by-person level through the open laboratory. The task light provides over a 55% reduction in lighting energy usage for the laboratory.

To deliver 80 footcandles (fc) requested by the owner for worksurfaces, a pendant light between benches provides 30 fc and the task light delivers 50 fc of illumination. Windows located at the end of the benches provide natural light. When sufficient daylight is available to meet the lighting targets, the overhead fixtures gradually dim, allowing for a 15% reduction in overall lighting power density.