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ULX: Life Sciences Buildings – Urban Land Magazine

ULX: Life Sciences Buildings – Urban Land Magazine


Ten research and education facilities make connections with nature, existing campuses, and communities.

As the life sciences industry continues to grow, new facilities are necessary to accommodate the increasingly collaborative and interdisciplinary nature of scientific research. In addition to satisfying the complex building system requirements of laboratories, these structures can showcase life sciences, enliven the streetscape with active uses and green space, and provide amenities that engage the public and raise awareness about science.

The following 10 projects—all completed during the past five years—include a research center in a renovated historic car dealership, a neuroscience research laboratory with a facade shaped to recall brain waves, a life sciences startup building made of prefabricated modules, and a cancer research institute with a public science museum.

1. Georgia BioScience Training Center
Social Circle, Georgia

In 2012, Georgia won a competitive bid to attract the new immunoglobulin therapies plant of Baxalta (now Takeda Pharmaceutical Company). As part of its incentives package, the state agreed to construct a workforce training center nearby. Operated by the Technical College System of Georgia, the 43,000-square-foot (4,000 sq m) Georgia BioScience Training Center not only provides a place to train workers in the life sciences, but also serves as a conference and meeting center for bio-industry professionals and a marketing tool to attract other biotech companies to the state.

Organized around a glass-walled, elliptical exterior courtyard event space, the facility expresses its high-tech function with a stainless-steel fabric screen made of faceted, angular, recyclable panels that mitigate solar glare and heat gain. The Atlanta office of design firm Cooper Carry designed the building’s classrooms, laboratories, and multipurpose spaces using a modular approach to allow for easy reconfigurations in the future. The training center opened in 2015.

2. IBio: Integrative Bioscience Center, Wayne State University
Detroit, Michigan

When Wayne State University decided to build a new biomedical research center to bring together 40 research teams previously working in scattered locations, it chose to renovate and expand the historic Dalgleish Cadillac Dealership designed by Albert Kahn in 1927. The local office of Harley Ellis Devereaux restored the brick, stone, concrete, and glass facade and clad the addition with a triple-glazed fritted curtain wall that filters daylight while providing views from the street to the activity within. A terra-cotta sunscreen extends over the roof and cascades down above the main entrance.

The design team had to address low floor-to-floor heights and repair failing and unreinforced concrete to make the former dealership accommodate modern science. Inside, the 205,000-square-foot (19,000 sq m) building emphasizes collaboration and is organized by research themes, such as biomedical engineering and cardiovascular research, rather than by departments. Teams share open meeting and group workspaces. The facility was completed in 2015.

3. Jerome L. Greene Science Center, Columbia University
New York, New York

In creating its new 17-acre (7 ha) Manhattanville campus, Columbia University sought to create a sense of transparency and openness in the public realm. The first building, the Jerome L. Greene Science Center, opened in 2017 and houses the university’s Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute, bringing together specialists across multiple disciplines to engage in neuroscience. The glass-enclosed first floor of the 450,000-square-foot (41,800 sq m) building is open to the public, offering shops, restaurants, a community wellness center, an education lab for local students, and an interactive installation conveying information about the research underway above.

Designed by the local offices of Renzo Piano Building Workshop as design architect, Davis Brody Bond as executive architect, and Body Lawson Associates as associate architect, the nine-story building consists of four steel-frame glass blocks organized around a glazed core that holds meeting rooms. The double-skin glass curtain wall mutes the noise of the elevated subway nearby and allows in natural light. A new urban plaza links the building with the campus’s new Lenfest Center for the Arts and the University Forum.

4. Life Sciences Building, Loyola Marymount University
Los Angeles, California

The vegetated roof that rises from grade level to the top of the three-story Life Sciences Building at Loyola Marymount University doubles as an outdoor laboratory for students to study stormwater retention and rainwater pollutants. The roof also links to outdoor terraces with wooden growing containers for faculty and students to conduct research into plants and seeds. With extensive glazing inside and out, the building puts science on display throughout.

Designed by the local office of CO Architects and completed in 2015, the 100,000-square-foot (9,300 sq m) structure incorporates enough solar panels to meet 10 percent of the building’s energy needs. Other sustainable strategies include chilled beams, natural ventilation, and low-flow plumbing fixtures. In addition to classrooms and research and teaching laboratories, the building includes a 273-seat auditorium and underground parking. Taking a cue from the Spanish revival architecture of the campus, the building wraps around a shady, landscaped entry courtyard, where sliding glass doors lead to an atrium staircase that is wide enough to facilitate interaction.

5. Life Sciences Building, University of Washington
Seattle, Washington

Located along a popular recreational trail that runs through King County, the University of Washington’s new 207,000-square-foot (19,200 sq m) Life Sciences Building embodies elements of the natural world, reflecting the biological research inside and the Pacific Northwest landscape outside. The facility’s 20,000-square-foot (1,900 sq m) greenhouse just off the trail is open to the public. ­Custom-milled slabs from salvaged Douglas firs wrap the elevator core; a bird call, unique to each floor, replaces the typical elevator arrival “ding.”

A suspended staircase hangs within the building’s glazed atrium, its oversized landings encouraging casual interaction between scientists and students. Vertical glass solar fins on the south facade generate enough electricity to light the four office floors and mitigate solar heat gain. A touchscreen dashboard on the first floor educates students and visitors about the research being conducted in the facility and gives real-time information about energy and water consumption. The local office of Perkins and Will designed the building, which opened in 2018.

6. Maersk Tower, University of Copenhagen
Copenhagen, Denmark

In the 1970s, the University of Copenhagen built the Panum Building, an inward-looking brutalist complex, as part of its north campus. In expanding the structure, the university wanted a contemporary contrast, something that would reach out to the surrounding neighborhoods. The local office of C.F. Møller Architects configured the new edifice as a 15-story, 460,000-square-foot (42,700 sq m) research tower resting on a star-shaped base of four low-slung buildings.

The tower typology leaves room for a landscaped park that incorporates outdoor study and recreation space and is open to the public. An elevated path for pedestrians and bicyclists winds through the park and brings passersby close to the building, providing views into the tower’s transparent base, which contains shared and public facilities, including classrooms, a cafeteria, a book café, lecture halls, and conference rooms. The tower has copper-clad perforated shutters that automatically move to mitigate solar heat gain. The building’s rounded corners and shutters help disperse wind turbulence at ground level. Maersk Tower opened in 2017.

7. Pagliuca Harvard Life Lab, Harvard University
Allston, Massachusetts

Part of the Harvard Innovation Labs complex, which supports Harvard students and select alumni in exploring entrepreneurship, the Pagliuca Harvard Life Lab provides specialized laboratory facilities for life-­science startups. The Boston office of Shepley Bulfinch designed the 15,000-square-foot (1,400 sq m) building using prefabricated modules, which shortened construction time from 12 months to seven. Completed in 2016, the two-story building’s 34 modules were factory constructed in Pennsylvania and shipped to the site. Because of state travel restrictions, maximum module height was limited to less than 13 feet (4 m), requiring creativity to incorporate ductwork, pipes, and the building structure.

The design team chose a stepped form, extending parts of the second floor over the first to work around site constraints. The exterior relies on a materials palette similar to that of the other Harvard Innovation Labs buildings—concrete, metal panels, and glass—to help unify the complex, while the randomized pattern of the concrete rainscreen panels gives the facility a unique identity. Labs occupy the second floor, with write-up areas placed on the first floor in an open office environment to encourage collaboration.

8. Rajen Kilachand Center for Integrated Life Sciences and Engineering, Boston University
Boston, Massachusetts

On a prominent site on Boston University’s campus, the Rajen Kilachand Center brings together life sciences researchers, engineers, and physicians to study systems neuroscience, cognitive neuroimaging, and biological design. The nine-story building’s rectilinear form references the campus’s boxy, limestone-clad, deco-gothic structures from the 1940s. Local architecture firm Payette designed the facade to combine transparency and solidity, with narrowly spaced concrete fins punctuating the glazed north and west sides and flat concrete rainscreen panels on the east and south sides.

Rather than place mechanical equipment in the basement, where it could be flooded, or on the roof, where it would be visible from the street, the designers located it on the second and third floors. Research floors have views of downtown and the Charles River. Public amenity spaces, including a new pocket park and interconnecting lobbies, enliven the ground floor. The 170,000-square-foot (16,000 sq m) building was completed in 2017.
9. Sainsbury Wellcome Centre, University College London
London, United Kingdom

The undulating white glass facade of the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre metaphorically references brain waves, appropriate for a laboratory dedicated to experimental neuroscience research. The facility at University College London replaces an existing research building from the 1950s. The white cast glass provides privacy for the researchers while allowing diffused natural light into the interiors and enabling the building to glow at night. The interior of the glass also doubles as a whiteboard for scientists to write on.

A public colonnade doubles the width of the sidewalk and is enlivened with an art installation: a thousand white “pixels” hang from the colonnade’s soffit and move in the breeze. Inside, three-story computational neuroscience labs at the heart of the building connect to double-height experimental laboratories on either side to foster interaction. Rooftop terraces give occupants green space with views of downtown London, and a new pocket park with seating at ground level is open to the public. Designed by local firm Ian Ritchie Architects, the facility opened in 2016.

10. The University of South Australia Cancer Research Institute, University of South Australia
Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

In Adelaide BioMed City, a health and life sciences precinct for universities, independent medical research institutes, and health care providers, the University of South Australia built its Cancer Research Institute to bring together research and technology to fight cancer. The first two floors of the 14-story facility include the university’s business incubator hub as well as a gallery and museum free and open to the public. Dubbed MOD, the museum rotates exhibitions twice a year, aiming to inspire interest in people ages 15 to 25 in the future of science and technology, connecting them to the research in the building and the scientific community as a whole.

The Cancer Research Institute’s main entrance is accessible via a landscaped plaza that links to the University of Adelaide’s Health and Medical Sciences Building. Vertical fins on the exterior double as structure and sunshades. Inside the building, three interconnecting atriums serve as interactive hubs around which different functions are organized. Designed by BVN of Sydney in association with Swanbury Penglase of Adelaide, the 301,000-square-foot (28,000 sq m) facility opened in 2018.

RON NYREN is a freelance architecture and urban design writer based in the San Francisco Bay area.



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