This article was originally published on LabDesignNews.com on May 31, 2017.
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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 took place on March 28 and 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 the 2017 Laboratory Design Conference.
The High Honors—Laboratory of the Year award was presented to The Allen Institute in Seattle, Wash., submitted by Perkins+Will in Seattle.
Restored historic buildings were integrated into the south facing facade of the Allen Institute. Photographer: Ben Benschneider
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 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.”
Labs are transparent and can be viewed from the interior and exterior to foster a sense of community and expose research activities. Photographer: Lara Swimmer
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.
The site was not without its challenges. The planning team had to adapt to dramatic growth within the organization. They were tasked with developing a collaborative and generic lab planning model, and had to accommodate an unusual site shape that came with engineering challenges and a high water table. Finally, they had to restore and incorporate a historic building.
“Structurally, the site was challenging with an odd site shape occupying a full city block—the trapezoidal shape was a catalyst for literally out of the box thinking and drove many of the design decisions, leading to the creative and successful layout of the space. Many specific structural bay sizes had to be stacked to make all programmatic areas successful,” said Kornovich.
“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.”
“[The petal design] started literally as a sketch on my kitchen table following the goals of the visioning session with the executive leadership. We were trying to accomplish something unpresented in lab design, by mixing lab, lab support and office areas in a way that forced people to go through each other’s space and opening up all the spaces and promoting interaction and collaboration. The petal design allowed us to accomplish these goals while maintaining the specific needs of research environments,” said Kornovich.
Cantilevered pods extend into the atrium to serve as creative spaces for spontaneous meetings. Photographer: Lara Swimmer
Arranging the labs in “neighborhoods” around the atrium increased the complexity of the project. The lab fronts were made transparent, but meet 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.
Another 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.
Lab fronts are transparent to give a sense of ‘passing through’—enforcing the exploratory nature of the Institute throughout the building. Photographer: Lara Swimmer
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 low—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.
The electron microscope room consists of custom work platforms built around the microscope and raised access flooring to allow researchers to service underneath the rig. Photographer: Lara Swimmer
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.”