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The “Water Garden” at CJ Blossom Park brings a nature element into the building. Credit: Christopher Barrett Photography

Now in its 52nd year, the Laboratory of the Year Awards continue to recognize excellence in research laboratory design, planning and construction. This is 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. This is year’s 2018 Laboratory of the Year was CJ Blossom Park of Suwon, South Korea, which was submitted by CannonDesign. Also recognized as Laboratory of the Year Special Mention was the Aerospace and Engineering Sciences Building, Metropolitan State University of Denver, which was submitted by Anderson Mason Dale Architects. The project teams were honored during the Laboratory Design Conference, held April 23-25, 2018, at the Sheraton Philadelphia Downtown Hotel in Philadelphia, PA.

CJ Blossom Park wins 2018 Laboratory of the Year

CJ Blossom Park’s three-petal tower design represents not only the company’s three previously separate businesses, but the idea of delivering health, happiness and convenience to its customers.

South Korean conglomerate CJ Corporation was on a mission to combine its distinct pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and food products businesses into a single location in order to increase both efficiency and global competitiveness.

The company turned to CannonDesign to develop CJ Blossom Park, its 1.2 million gross square foot research and development headquarters in Suwon.

Completed in March 2017 at a total construction cost of $608 million, CJ Blossom Park takes the inspiration for its architecture from CJ’s own brand identity, a three-petal tower representing its three distinct science divisions. Each of the divisions is housed in its own respective tower, and the three towers are built around a sunlight filled central atrium where employees can meet to collaborate and socialize.

The design team used advanced barometric monitoring to study the movement of the sun around the building to maximize daylight.

Mehrdad Yazdani, Design Principal, Director of Yazdani Studio at CannonDesign, was the submitting architect for the Laboratory of the Year entry. “While the building occupies a prominent site along a major boulevard in Suwon, it is also adjacent to a park providing views of trees and a landscaped hillside. Our team set out to design a facility that was truly responsive to its environment and took advantage of the unique attributes of the site. The resulting building’s massing and form creates an iconic presence along the boulevard, while its façade design maximizes daylighting and views for its occupants.”

“Creating this building became a very interactive design process. Our team worked in close collaboration with not only CJ’s leadership, but a wide range of the company’s scientists and staff ,” Yazdani said. “We held numerous interactive workshops, in Seoul and Los Angeles, to solicit input from the client at various stages of the design.”

The architecture of CJ Blossom Park, which brings three research areas together into a central facility, is intended to reflect CJ’s company mantra, “Only One.”

“The goal of the new facility is to unite scientific expertise that existed in the firm in different locations into one common collaborative environment that could support modern research technologies,” said Steve Copenhagen, LEED AP, Science and Technology Planning, Principal with CannonDesign. “Additionally, the facility is designed to offer best-in-class research technology and remarkable amenities to boost recruitment and retention of top researchers.”

The three-petal flower identity represents not only the company’s three previously separate businesses, but the idea of delivering health, happiness and convenience to its customers as well. The concept of well-being and contentment also carries over to the employees who work in CJ Blossom Park. The Laboratory of the Year judging panel admired the project’s approach to culture and the avoidance of “burnout mentality,” with a vast array of amenities available to those that work in the building. About 900 researchers work in approximately 750,000 square feet of lab space at CJ Blossom Park—space was needed for them to meet, collaborate and relax.

“The design of CJ Blossom Park is rooted in the ‘New Scientific Workplace’ concept—a radical design approach that replaces traditional laboratory planning ideas with integrated innovation strategies to create dynamic, boundary-less environments that increase productivity, efficiency and creativity,” said Copenhagen. “Designing to empower this concept was vital for the CJ organization, as it helped bring together all of its disparate business entities into one central location.”

In order to attract and hold on to the next generation of scientists, CJ worked with CannonDesign to develop a plan that accommodates not only laboratories and workspaces but nearly 50 distinct amenities, encompassing 100,000 square feet of the building, to help CJ employees unwind. These special features include coffee shops, a library, fitness rooms and a spa, sleeping pods and a café. Also featured is “interior living forest,” which spans two levels of the building and can be seen from inside the laboratories.  

The labs at CJ Blossom Park start on the second floor and include all subsequent floors. In order to achieve flexibility for future advances in research, the building utilizes a university grid system which consists of three planning modules measuring 10.5 feet. This option allows for an easy transformation to interior spaces, while avoiding any dramatic changes to the infrastructure.

The facility employs a universal bench design measuring 5 feet by 2.5 feet—this setup is non-directional and can therefore be organized in either parallel or perpendicular direction, in order to offer greater flexibility for collaboration and teamwork. To address utility concerns, an overhead service boom accommodates power, data and lab gasses.

EXTERIOR VIEW OF CJ BLOSSOM PARK. CREDIT: TIM GRIFFITH PHOTOGRAPHY

To save money and energy, a task + ambient lighting strategy was employed in CJ Blossom Park. General lighting (with its lower illuminance requirements) was separated from the task lighting (which requires higher foot-candle levels for more fine-tuned tasks). Energy-intense light levels were localized solely to the areas where they are required, rather than entire laboratory zones. Task lighting is able to move with the furniture during bench layout reconfiguration in order to improve the overall visual experience no matter where the furniture or workers are physically located.

CJ Blossom Park’s active chilled beam system is unique to Korea, featuring a centralized heat pipe energy recovery system concept that serves all open lab spaces and works in collaboration with a centralized, manifolded AHU system that serves the open lab spaces in each petal tower. CannonDesign decided to go with the system rather than a conventional VAV system and a CV fan coil unit system due to its maintenance simplicity, competitiveness of net construction costs, flexibility potential in regards to changing lab space cooling loads, thermal comfort and exceptional energy performance. The result is an active chilled beam system that provides over 9 percent energy savings (63 percent fan energy savings) over a CV fan coil unit system. The task + ambient lighting strategy shows over 52 percent Lighting Power Density savings compared to the code.

Copenhagen says that this choice resulted from “a number of discussions, education and explanations plus hardcore engineering calculations. The system challenged the local conservative engineering approach and understanding relative to local climate conditions. Our engineers worked closely with the local Engineer-of-Record to develop Risk assessments and to show the operational and energy savings a chilled beam system could provide.”

Planning a building in Asia presented a unique situation, said Yazdani, who is based in Los Angeles.

“Designing an innovative and complex facility thousands of miles away presents many challenges that require creativity and timely problem solving as well as a commitment to collaboration and idea sharing,” said Yazdani. “Two of the main challenges we faced included constructing the building’s exterior metal scrim as it required close collaboration among our team, our local architects and engineers, CJ construction managers and subconsultants; and persuading CJ scientists that the New Scientific Workplace concept would bolster their efforts. We addressed this challenge by engaging them during the design process and illustrating how it could increase collaboration, flexibility and productivity.”

The plan to merge three previously separate businesses into one central building was also a challenge for CannonDesign. CJ was not initially keen on the idea, but the benefits of increased collaboration eventually swayed them.

The circulation was placed at the perimeter of the building with the laboratories at the center of each tower. Credit: Christopher Barrett Photography

“There is always anxiety with change. CJ’s three business divisions were not originally sure of the benefits that could stem from cross-operational collaboration. Previously, their focus has been on delivering their individual business mandates and not reaching out to the other units,” said Copenhagen. “The projects started with a programming effort to make sure each group’s technological and equipment needs were understood and could be accommodated, and that the adjacencies both vertically and on each floor allowed for the desired programmatic functions and interactions. While there is a significant difference between a Kimchi pilot facility in the food tower and a cGMP pharmaceutical development lab in the Pharma tower, the common denominator is the genius and creativity of the CJ scientists. Creating a research facility to foster this collaboration synergy was always the driving vision of the project.”

“The bigger challenge was the cultural change management necessary for the New Scientific Workplace approach to fulfill its vision,” Copenhagen continued. “This approach intentionally focused on creating the collaboration within and between the separate business units. The use of more ‘open’ laboratories with enclosures only as functionally necessary, was an entirely new approach compared to the company’s traditional facilities with the goal of increased collaboration within and between the different units.”

The Laboratory of the Year judging panel remarked that CJ Blossom Park is an “attractive building,” which successfully uses its grand identity as its framework. Yazdani, in his Laboratory of the Year acceptance speech at the 2018 Laboratory Design Conference in Philadelphia on April 23, said that CJ Blossom Park was a project that was truly a pleasure for him to work on, and that he was happy to be part of a team that worked in very dynamic, collaborative ways.

“This truly was a dynamic dialogue between the design team, the lab design team and the client, and the result is a building where you don’t know who did what,” said Yazdani. “It’s been a truly seamless collaboration.”

The advanced machines and robotics facility features an open floor plate design and overhead service carriers in order to maximize potential equipment layout. Credit: David Lauer

Education as a community effort

This community-centered atmosphere of the Aerospace and Engineering Sciences Building, Metropolitan State University of Denver, has been significant in attracting a wide range of industry partners

In 2011, then-President Barack Obama announced an initiative to escalate manufacturing in the U.S., with a particular emphasis on higher education. Metropolitan State University of Denver decided to create a customized baccalaureate degree program in order to accommodate Colorado’s growing manufacturing workforce—specifically, the aerospace industry. A 2017 CBNC report, in fact, cites Colorado as the nation’s second-largest aerospace economy, behind California. MSU Denver took advantage of this by combining its existing Engineering Technology Sciences, Computer Science and Industrial Design programs into a new Aerospace and Engineering Sciences Building, in order to support this new degree program. To achieve this, the university turned to Anderson Mason Dale Architects of Denver.

The design team developed a plan where the Aerospace and Engineering Sciences (AES) Building would help the school build on its traditions of inclusivity and community service, and serve as a link between local residents and the region’s flourishing aerospace industry. With 118,000 gsf and a total project cost of $56.2 million (cost per unit area: $366/sf), the university explored a broad range of partnerships and tailored arrangements intended to be mutually beneficial to both the school and its industry partner. The plan included a diverse set of lab spaces designed to accommodate a variety of partnership opportunities.

“A major challenge for the design team was the nature of the industry partnership opportunities. Rather than a single, foundational-level donation from a large company, the opportunities tended to be small-scale involving using a particular space in a particular way,” said Erin Hillhouse, Project Manager, Anderson Mason Dale Architects. “We needed to be light on our feet and able to quickly test modifications to the design to see if the building could morph to accommodate the partnership opportunity without sacrificing function.”

The resulting building houses fabrication spaces on the ground floor. The upper floors house labs and classrooms dedicated to other subjects linked to the advanced manufacturing aerospace industry, such as electronics, computer science and thermal dynamics, plus drafting and design studios. The building itself is positioned along an arterial entry into downtown Denver and the central business district, with the two-story Study Lounge and the Forum—the building’s most active spaces—positioned directly in the line of sight of commuters. The site is located directly across the street from the city’s 18,000 seat event center. A half-scale prototype of the Orion spacecraft, constructed by students using 3D printed components, is displayed in the Study Lounge, where it is visible from the street.

This community-centered atmosphere, along with the variety of lab space in the AES building, has been significant in attracting a wide range of industry partners to collaborate with MSU Denver.

“The project includes three major initiatives,” said Hillhouse. “The top floor of the building was set aside by the University to serve as industry tenant lease space. Start-up businesses get access to expensive testing equipment on the lower floors of the building and the university benefits by getting opportunities to place students with the businesses for hands-on experience. A deal was brokered between the university and a distributor for advanced manufacturing equipment wherein the distributer would loan the university its newest equipment models for student use and in return get the ability to bring clients through to see the equipment in action. Perhaps most importantly, MSU Denver worked with industry to develop, from scratch, a new curriculum resulting in Advanced Manufacturing Sciences. The curriculum is specifically tailored to provide the skills which industry reported needing.”

Donated equipment from local companies, such as 3D metal printers, are housed in labs framed by large windows so that passers-by can get a glimpse of what’s going on inside. Building systems are also on display, adding to the concept of community and transparency.

“The building is designed with large expanses of glass on these primary sides so that as commuters enter the city or patrons leave an event across the street, people can look up into the building and see the activity within,” Hillhouse said. “The primary view into the building features a mock-up of a spacecraft. Looking out from this same spot, students get views to Pikes Peak.”

Flexibility is key at MSU Denver, with services in the lab distributed from overhead so that equipment can easily be changed out when newer models are available. Credit: David Lauer

Flexibility is key, with services in the lab distributed from overhead so that equipment can easily be changed out when newer models are available. All labs were planned on a modular basis so that, if necessary, they can be reallocated to adapt to long-range program changes in the future. The building is on track for LEED Gold certification, and is also projected to achieve 18 percent Energy Cost savings over ASHRAE 90.1 2010 baseline requirements.

One example of the varied lab spaces in the AES building is the advanced machines and robotics facility, which features an open floor plate design and overhead service carriers in order to maximize potential equipment layout and accommodate safe working clearances for the machines. The lab has 150-amp electrical busways, mounted to the overhead carriers to permit electrical devices of varying voltages and amperages to be positioned where necessary for the equipment. The room maintains an open space in the middle due to fixed work benches, storage cabinets and sinks positioned around the perimeter. A distributor of advanced manufacturing equipment agreed to a partnership with MSU Denver where the distributor will continually re-stock the lab with its most current equipment in exchange for permission to utilize the lab as a showroom. Large windows were therefore included in the design plan so that the distributor can demonstrate the equipment to its clients while it is in action.

Another example is the thermal/heat transfer and fluids flow laboratory, a 28-station facility equipped with 14 moveable yet sturdy tables that can be arranged in lecture format or pushed out of the way for demonstrations or worships. The tables are fitted with duplex electrical receptacles that can be plugged into overhead service carriers or perimeter raceways. To follow the theme of community and inclusiveness, glass doors and side lights enable visibility of lab activity from out in the corridor.

The Laboratory of the Year judging panel remarked that they were impressed by the value of the product, which they called “unbelievable for Colorado.” They praised the design team for their innovative and creative use of funding, and remarked that the AES facility is a good example of how a lab building can contribute to the community.

“The building brings together several academic departments that had previously been housed in separate buildings. The budget wouldn’t support all of the space that the departments wanted,” said Hillhouse. “One key for overcoming this was MSU Denver’s creation of the new Advanced Manufacturing Institute that facilitates sharing of spaces in the building. Another was designing spaces for double-duty: a student lounge also acts as lecture venue; a circulation corridor also acts as a gallery/event space.”

“The biggest cost-saving move was organizing the building into a simple bar with all laboratories clustered on one side of the bar and all offices clustered on the other,” continued Hillhouse. “This minimizes distribution of expensive lab systems and achieves the most floor area for the least skin expenditure.”

Hillhouse noted that the promise of a skilled, educated workforce was key to getting local manufacturing and aerospace companies to agree to partner with MSU Denver on the AES building project.

“In our local advanced manufacturing industry, there is a vacuum in which companies need staff with a complex skill-set that combines computer programming, managing teams of people and the ability to work with one’s hands, but can’t find staff qualified for the work,” said Hillhouse. “It was easy to convince companies to be involved in the planning of the project because the companies could see that the project would create a pipeline that would fill their needs.”

MaryBeth DiDonna is Editor of Laboratory Design. www.labdesignnews.com, marybeth.didonna@advantagemedia.com, Twitter @labdesignnews

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