An open stair at the center of the building connects the common informal meeting/break area of each floor at the center and further encourages interaction at the Francis Crick Institute. Credit: Paul Grundy

Now in its 51st year, the Laboratory of the Year Awards continue to recognize excellence in research laboratory design, planning and construction. This annual international competition receives entries from the best new and renovated laboratories. Eligible projects represent a wide variety of laboratory types, including research, quality assurance/control, teaching, software development, environmental, clinical, forensic, and testing and standards.

Judging for this year’s competition was conducted by a blue-ribbon panel of laboratory architects, engineers, equipment manufacturers, researchers and the editorial staff of R&D Magazine and Laboratory Design. The project teams were honored during the Laboratory Design Conference, held April 24-26, 2017, at the Raleigh Marriott Crabtree Valley in Raleigh, N.C. Five awards were presented at this event.

Discovery without boundaries

The Francis Crick Institute—a biomedical research center with a flexible, collaborative design—wins 2017 Laboratory of the Year.

When a U.K. government funding agency, two charities and three universities got together to plan the new Francis Crick Institute, they decided they wanted to create an innovative center of biomedical research right in the heart of London. They wanted to bring together a diverse community of researchers who could work together in interdisciplinary teams in order to solve some of the most pressing medical issues of our time.

Calling it a “beautiful building” with a “nice floor plan,” the judging panel designated the Francis Crick Institute as its 2017 Laboratory of the Year.

The Crick’s flexible layout accommodates the typical 6- to 12-year tenures of its researchers, who are not tenured—a strategy to bring in fresh outlooks. The space had to be designed in order to serve those who were fairly early in their careers, versus those who had been long-established as leaders in their fields. The flexible lab and infrastructure environments were designed to deal with rapid changes in staffing and research.

“Virtually everything in the building, in the lab, is moveable. So on the simple level of changing the lab, it’s very easy and can be done in an hour or two, for the most part, and the researchers can do those things themselves without getting the facilities group involved,” said Bill Odell, Director of Science + Technology at HOK and Principal in Charge of the Crick project. “As a team evolves, they may realize they have something in common with another group—for example, cell biology vs. membranes. They can quickly rearrange themselves so they’re all together.”

In order to foster open collaboration, the Crick was designed to include several informal spaces, both active and quiet zones, to accommodate both arranged and chance encounters between researchers. The design of the building promotes high visibility within each neighborhood, among neighborhoods and also between each floor, with an open staircase at the center of the building connecting the common informal meeting/break area of each floor at the center. Each floor hosts common support facilities (for example, tissue culture suites) that are shared by neighborhoods as well as building-wide facilities, such as imaging and containment suites. Flexible white boards were installed throughout the building to encourage spontaneous discussions and documentation.

Collaboration and interaction is a common theme throughout the building. Lab blocks are arranged around a communal transverse atrium, and lab space is open, flexible and visually connected to support rapid conversion during the quick expansion and evolution of research teams. Numerous break areas, a cafeteria with communal tables, coffee bars and a pub further encourage collaboration and conversation between the Crick’s researchers.

Visiting clinicians, as well as industry-based researchers, were accommodated in the design of the building with temporary workplaces—a move to further collaboration efforts and draw in strategic partners. The Crick aims to openly share its discoveries with the rest of the world. A teaching laboratory and support spaces located near the front of the building host classes for local schoolchildren and teachers.

The relationship between write-up offices, primary labs, shared secondary labs and dedicated secondary labs can accommodate fast reallocation of team space, while at the same time encouraging the sharing of instruments and amenities. The Crick’s proportion of core facilities to primary/secondary lab facilities is almost 50 percent, significantly higher than comparable facilities around the world. These core facilities include an animal research facility, high containment facilities, CL2 containment suites, a light microscopy suite, a super resolution imaging suite, a nuclear magnetic resonance suite, a transmission electron microscopy suite, an MRI suite, a histopathology suite, a high throughput screening suite, a flow cytometry suite, a drosophila (fruit fly) suite, a tissue culture suite, an X-ray suite, a chemistry suite, a mass spectrometry suite, and an isotope suite.

The Francis Crick Institute was rated BREEAM Excellent using the BREEAM Sustainable Rating System, the standard in the U.K. and increasingly in the EU. This system is similar to LEED; however, BREEAM places a greater emphasis on carbon while LEED focuses more on indoor air quality and site issues. The BREEAM Excellent rating is roughly equivalent to a level somewhere between LEED Gold and LEED. The Crick saves about 35,000 tons of CO2 a year, with a 25 percent reduction in CO2 emissions over a standard 2006 building. The Laboratory of the Year entry noted that the building’s design “followed a tiered ‘be lean, be clean, be green’ approach to carbon reduction in accordance with the London Plan—this design approach provides this savings through the use of lean design, high efficiency MEP plant, the use of extensive sub-metering, presence and leak detection systems.” The Crick is beyond a regulation compliant building including process loads.

At the Allen Institute, collaboration ‘pods’ hang out into the atrium to provide unique collaboration spaces. Credit: Lara Swimmer

Team science, big science, open science

Laboratory of the Year High Honors given to the Allen Institute for Brain Science

Researchers have spent decades trying to tackle the most challenging scientific questions about the human brain. Collaboration is necessary in order to bring these minds together and solve such pressing issues. Those who work at The Allen Institute for Brain Science are focused on generating big, rich data sets in a way that cannot be done on a smaller scale—therefore, they need a suitable way to work with each other in order to share and analyze it. Prior to the new building’s completion, the researchers were working in four separate facilities across Seattle, which made it more difficult to collaborate with each other and work toward common goals.

The mission of The Allen Institute was to represent a research philosophy based on “team science, big science and open science” in order to hasten the concept of how the human brain works in health and disease. The design team’s aim was to establish a research environment conducive to collaborative interaction in order to advance brain research. In lieu of more traditional linear zones of programs, the Allen Institute was designed with “petals” of functional spaces arranged around a six-story central atrium in order to visually and spatially connect the activities. Daylight and views were maximized, while at the same time minimizing glare and heat gain and achieving LEED Gold certification.

“The concept of team science where everyone is working toward a common result. There are no specific grants or experiments, instead all space and equipment is part of the Institute’s overall scientific goal which was a big shift for many,” said Kay Kornovich of Perkins+Will, the Lead Planner and Managing Principal on the Allen Institute project. “There is no territory, or individually owned bench space, or equipment, but truly an institute working toward a common goal.”

The Laboratory of the Year judging panel cited the Allen Institute’s “strong concept and story,” as well as its commitment to sustainability and the energy of its atrium, when awarding it with High Honors—Laboratory of the Year.

“Petals” of functional spaces around the central atrium are intended to represent adjacencies that encourage collaborative interaction between all groups. The building’s labs were arranged around the base, and shifted from the base in order to establish a distinct volume and provide the required structural module. There are four uniform levels of labs, clearly recognized from the exterior because of their vertical perforated aluminum shades and woven metal within the glass façade. The lab petal volume, the Laboratory of the Year entry notes, “is contained as a single form by an aluminum clad folded plane that wraps the building, folding down to create a virtual façade with large vertical shades on the west, and the entry to the building on the east.”

Arranging the labs in “neighborhoods” around the atrium increased the complexity of the project. The lab fronts were made transparent, but met the necessary requirements to fulfill control zone, fire rating and smoke control needs. Cantilevered pods, intended to house collaborative meetings, extend out into the atrium. Two sides of the lab were glazed in order to offer the maximum amount of transparency and light, and to allow its inhabitants to see from one end of the building to the other. Transparent lab fronts were utilized to give those inside the building the sense that they were “passing through” and fully engaging in the science within. The use of transparent materials throughout the building was intended to convey the exploratory nature of the Institute.

One complex challenge for the design team was to balance the lab facilities’ vibration requirements. Vibration performance of the labs was 2,000 mips to 4,000 mips. In order to accommodate these requirements, detailed analytical models were employed to create vibration maps that visualized the anticipated vibration performance. The Institute and engineering team then worked together to tune the structural system in order to create the best performance for their needs without sacrificing structural depth and flexibility. The structure was able to be thin and light, which meant cost savings in the lateral system and a reduction in loads at the transfer loads.

The Allen Institute is also home to a 2,700 sf data center in order to store and protect its research, and the Institute decided to make the data center a display piece. The data center also functions as a humidifier for the building via direct evaporative cooling, when the outside weather is cold and dry. The building utilizes an Aircuity system in order to monitor contaminants in open lab spaces, and can automatically adjust the outdoor air supplied to those spaces to lower pollutant concentrations—providing demonstrable improved air quality and energy savings. Additionally, an electron microscope room was sized to accommodate six 14-ft. high Transmission Electron Microscopes, with custom work platforms constructed around the microscopes and raised access flooring to accommodate researchers servicing underneath the rig. Vibration criteria for the structural slab was able to meet the strict vibration criteria of the electron microscopes.

Sustainability features included in the building are reduced energy consumption, radiant panel ceiling, data center heat recapture, chilled beams for cooling, bicycle infrastructure, Salmon Safe Certification and a fly wheel back-up battery system—an emergency power and battery storage system necessary to guarantee uninterrupted usage of data center servers.

“This is one of the projects you feel privileged to work on in your career,” said Kornovich. “It pushed me as planner, a designer and a creator of scientific work places. It created a new paradigm in how architecture can support the scientific behavior that will change the world.”

New face of IBio establishes a north gateway presence for WSU. Credit: Brad Feinknopf

An impossible building

The Integrative Biosciences Center, Wayne State University wins Renovated Laboratory of the Year

The team tasked with renovating the Integrative Biosciences Center (IBio) at Wayne State University found themselves faced with a monumental task—transform a 1920s auto dealership into a state-of-the-art facility that would draw in bright young researchers and innovators who could sufficiently target medical issues that affected the Detroit region's racial and socioeconomic groups.

In order for WSU to procure $30M in Michigan state funding, the team had to complete their programming and schematic planning within five weeks, rather than a more typical five months.

Architecture firm Harley Ellis Devereaux of Southfield, Mich., was up to the challenge. They began a design process to develop a program and schematic design for a new multidisciplinary biomedical research facility that re-shapes the way science approaches urban health issues. They also had to accommodate the historical building’s physical disconnection from WSU’s main campus and hypothetical partner facilities, develop a catalyst for an area aching for redevelopment, and sufficiently coordinate with surrounding development efforts such as a new light rail line.

“Adapting the building for lab use … was a huge challenge,” said Mark Hartmann, Lab Planner. “Two-thirds of the final building is restoration of a derelict 1927 Albert-Kahn-designed auto dealership, 75 percent of which remains. The building was structurally unsuited to lab planning, with a host of existing conditions in desperate need of correction or repair. Portions of the original building were not constructed properly in the first place, requiring remediation of unreinforced concrete and inadequately supported columns.”

Right-sizing the building wound up accommodating user needs by shaving off nearly 3,000 sf of area from the original program, yielding a first-cost savings of $1.1 million, plus significant reductions in life cycle costs.

For its successful transformation of the surrounding area, cost savings strategies and its “beautiful presentation,” the Laboratory of the Year judging panel awarded the Integrative Biosciences Center with the Renovated Laboratory of the Year award.

“By renovating a 90-year-old abandoned structure, IBio represents a second century of usable life for the building. The new layout is designed to be as adaptable as possible, featuring open space, movable casework, Quick-Connect fixtures, and perimeter-run lab systems (water/air/vacuum) to facilitate access as needs change,” said Project Designer Sam Bayne, FAIA. “This approach primarily is intended to facilitate continually evolving habits among multidisciplinary researchers, but it also should extend the building’s life even further by accommodating future, unanticipated needs.”

The IBio facility offers about 205,000 gsf to support research themes (“themes, not departments,” their Laboratory of the Year entry notes), including biomedical engineering, cardiovascular, diabetes and metabolism, behavioral science and computational biology. The design included flexible office and wet/dry lab space in order to permit multiple themes to collaborate on similar research initiatives, while also allowing individual groups to shrink or expand over time as needed. The lab planners calculated 764 sf of wet lab bench area per Principal Investigator, and therefore the aggregate shared lab support area is equal to an additional 50 percent of the wet lab total square footage. All of the wet lab casework is moveable, in order to allow for easy reconfiguration without reconstruction. Placing the wet labs in the existing building meant that ceiling space was quite valuable—an assortment of terminal heating and cooling equipment was utilized for space conditioning, such as chilled beams in the dry lab and admin office areas.

Most of the dry lab spaces are located in the new addition, in order to place “Science On Display” for those passing by. The dry labs are an open workspace environment in the addition and around the wet lab core on the north side of the building—this preserves daylight and views for the researchers, and none of the research staff occupy an outside wall.

Prior to the IBio facility, WSU researchers found themselves working across multiple facilities in small, heavily-specialized and isolated teams, which didn’t provide adequate opportunities for collaboration or for accommodating changing team sizes according to funding availability. The IBio design instead takes advantage of standard offices, workstation modules and lab bench configurations for flexibility.

The building was contracted for LEED Silver, but has received certification at the Gold level. Ventilation rates exceed the requirements outlined in ASHRAE 62 by 20 percent, providing improved indoor air quality for building occupants. The landscape is 40 percent of the open space on the site, requires little maintenance and doesn’t need any potable water for irrigation. A full 75 percent of the material of the original auto dealership building remains in the completed retrofit.

“The Tech Town neighborhood sees it as a positive catalyst for further development in the community—a clear indication that it’s possible to create a state-of-the-art technical facility while retaining historical significance,” said Charlie Jacobs, Project Manager. “On the part of the community, there have been repeated expressions of appreciation for all of the effort expended by WSU to overcome the building’s inherent unsuitability for lab planning and find a way to make the project’s dreams a reality.”

An automated high throughput tissue-culture lab; enclosed, but accessible through workstations at Novartis. Credit: Esto Photographics Inc./Anton Grassl

Research as a “cleaner process”

Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research, Cambridge Campus awarded a Special Recognition for Innovative Systems

The new research complex for Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research (NIBR) in Cambridge, Mass., joins the Boston area’s already prominent medical, healthcare and research community. The 840,000 sf campus is made up of two new interconnected buildings surrounded by a courtyard, and is located across the street from existing Novartis facilities.

Research taking place at NIBR spans the fields of neuroscience, ophthalmology, muscle disorders, and cardiovascular and metabolism diseases; medicines are currently being researched to use against malaria, autism, rheumatoid arthritis and bipolar disorder.

The Laboratory of the Year judges awarded the Novartis Institutes with Special Recognition for Innovative Systems because of the facility’s well-executed, attractive design, and its notion of research as a “cleaner” process.

The laboratory functions take up around 350,000 sf of the NIBR facility, which is a significant expansion in research space for the company. The NIBR is home to specialty lab functions including a robotics lab, nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) imaging, a zebrafish facility and other specialty lab spaces.

The project was a “civic responsibility,” says Rick Hrycaj, AIA, Principal at CannonDesign, which submitted the NIBR facility for the Laboratory of the Year competition.

“There are requirements that Novartis set forth in terms of the program of the building which included a 450-car parking garage and an acknowledgement that Cambridge is a bike city,” said Hrycaj. “So there’s a garage for 120 bikes indoors, with showers and a facility for cyclists. [Novartis] felt that they truly wanted to give back or be anchored in the Cambridge community. Part of the design was to create a park-like courtyard surrounding the building on the perimeter that could be used by the community.”

Flexibility and optimizing space were also main concerns for Novartis when the facility was being planned. The company sought a sense of openness and collaboration—hence, CannonDesign implemented a multitude of venues from which researchers could work, all located around a lab’s common wall. Hrycaj cited former NIBR President, Dr. Mark Fishman, who retired in early 2016, as a driving force behind the concept of collaboration in the new facility.

“The powerful underlying concept was that Dr. Fishman and the lab planners wanted multiple venues for collaboration, and that drove a lot of the planning,” said Hrycaj. “There was a challenge to develop multiple venues and put them directly adjacent to the lab—there are perimeter conference rooms that are glass where you can see into the lab, where scientists and technicians feel comfortable that they’re not leaving the lab per se.”

CannonDesign decided to take advantage of adjacent core areas, directly adjacent to benches, as storage spaces to allow for fewer things to be stored at laboratory casework bench stations—thereby opening up more areas for collaboration between researchers. While traditional laboratory casework typically includes fairly tall shelving systems that provide everything benchside, CannonDesign’s system eliminated those tall units in favor of creating a very low landscape. The casework in the NIBR responded in a way that there was a very low spine, Hrycaj said, adding that there were a lot of plug-in pieces that allowed for multiple conditions, whether it be series of lab bench with storage underneath.

“The line between laboratory and non-laboratory space is a pretty definitive line, and the environmental requirements in the lab in the lab are much different than outside the lab,” said Hrycaj. “By reducing the lab space we were able to create more space for collaboration, and one of the most successful aspects of the building is that a lot of folks in the lab are able to see into these spaces and all those spaces are heavily utilized and we found that to be incredibly successful.”

The Physics STEM Suite at Enzi. Credit: Frank Ooms

The excitement of science

Enzi Educational Facility [STEM] wins Special Recognition for Collaborative Learning Environment

When the state of Wyoming announced that it would fund a science facility at the University of Wyoming, the university decided that the building’s focus should be on first and second year STEM lab courses. The intention was to make the facility into a “gateway” for the school’s young science majors, and entice them to stay the course and continue studying science as an upper-division specialization. As a bonus, the relocated lab courses would free up space in existing buildings to augment higher-level courses and offer expanded research space.

The Enzi Educational Facility received the Special Recognition for Collaborative Learning Environment award—the Laboratory of the Year judges noted the building’s openness and transparency, as well as its conceptual exterior and the relation to the surrounding area.

 “We were lucky to have a very involved steering committee, consisting primarily of the staff, faculty and student representatives who would ultimately be living in the building,” said Project Manager Erin Hillhouse, AIA, of Anderson Mason Dale Architects. “From literally the first meeting with this group, they were clear that the project must celebrate science. Working with Jeanne Narum of Learning Spaces Collaboratory, we facilitated student focus discussions to learn the student’s perspective.”

Hillhouse added, “The two main ways in which the building celebrates science are by maximizing transparency between labs, computational areas and collaboration areas and by allowing students to work in the free-flowing, collaborative manner of professional scientists. Both of these ideas came out of workshops with our steering committee.”

The heart of the Enzi facility is referred to as the “hearth,” a multi-story gathering space that connects departments that reside on different floors. The gathering space is used for student study areas, and glass marker boards are available for group projects. The furniture can be rearranged to allow for guest speakers or the University’s annual outreach science fair each summer. 

A set of spaces forming one side of the central gathering space “addresses a new paradigm for higher education science learning,” according to the project’s Laboratory of the Year submission. In that STEM suite, science laboratories, computer labs and student work/meeting areas are arranged in groups, and moveable glass walls are used to connect them. The free-flow of work between laboratories, computational spaces and meeting areas carefully means that students can work in the way that professional scientists do.

“One of the project challenges was working with disparate departments, rather than designing a building for one entity. Each of the departments had specific needs and initially were very focused on their immediate facility needs,” said Architect of Record Sallie Means, AIA, of By Architectural Means, which collaborated on the Enzi facility with Anderson Mason Dale Architects. “By using a collaborative workshop project approach, the planning team members were exposed to other department needs and issues. Developing a holistic view of the new facility, they became strong advocates of maximizing the student interaction spaces, as long as their primary needs were met.”

Energy usage is the Enzi facility’s primary sustainability challenge, mainly because of the mechanical exhaust requirements necessary to uphold a suitable working laboratory environment. The building aims to achieve energy savings amounting to 25 percent below the ASHRAE 90.1 2007 baseline established by LEED 2009. The project is targeting LEED Silver certification under LEED 2009 criteria.

Another huge concern for the facility was lab safety, “particularly in the organic and general chemistry labs,” noted Hillhouse.

“In those laboratories, the new facility offers a number of upgrades from the previous facility:  select benches are equipped with vented backdraft exhaust, fume hoods allow students to work safely with volatile chemicals, and view windows between spaces allow lab coordinators to help each other in monitoring student’s safe laboratory practices.”