New Approaches to Laboratory Design
"The competition for researchers and their grants seems to be so intense that universities want to make their laboratories as attractive and flexible as possible so that scientists will be drawn there," Izenour adds.
Elegance Meets Midwestern Horizontality
The strongest testimony to the veracity of Izenour's theory is Penn's latest Health Science Center building, Biomedical Research Building II and III, (familiarly known as BRB2/3). It was designed by Francis Cauffman Foley and Hoffmann (FCFH) of Philadelphia with Perkins & Will of Chicago.
The building was dedicated in May at the West Philadelphia campus of Penn's Health Science Center on Curie Boulevard. The $147 million, 14-story building provides 384,000 square feet (35,700 square meters) of laboratory and office space for the scientific community. Each of the 11 lab floors can provide 30 modules and 60 work spaces.
FCFH's Jim Hanson says he and colleague Glen Conley, "devoted about 8,000 hours to BRB2" over six years as on-site project architects. They designed the interior lab spaces and offices while the Chicago-based Ralph Johnson of Perkins & Will designed the exterior.
"The building can only be described as modern and elegant,'' Hanson said. He had nothing but accolades for Johnson's work, which he described as the right mixture of "vertical lines accentuated by long windows that bring the eye of the viewer up in a stately manner."
"The horizontal was brought out with the long atrium reception area in front of the building," Hanson says. "I honestly think the horizontal lines were brought about by Johnson's background as a Midwesterner, living with all those flat planes."
Looking out a fourth-floor window at BRB2, Eric M. Weckel, an architect who directs the facility's planning and operation services, says he can see from there the history of health science buildings at Penn. The vista includes the original, stately John Morgan medical building constructed in the 19th century, the clean International-style Richards Medical Center building designed by Louis Kahn in the 1960s, the glass-walled Philadelphia Children's Hospital, and the Stellar Chance Laboratories of the 1990s.
Weckel says, "BRB2 completes a loop that links the entire medical center campus and allows people to travel by pedestrian bridges to all the medical and science buildings and meeting places in our health center. In contrast to some of its neighbors, this 14-story building has a nice green space in front and beside it for people to relax and meet." The setback disguises the size of the building.
Also disguising the size of the BRB2 is the two-story glass entrance lobby that houses a huge meeting room. Its reception area is visible through the glass wall. The two-story lobby building gives the entire structure a human scale.
For the interior, Hanson says, Dr. William N. Kelley, CEO of the University Medical Center and Health System, wanted only the "best for the laboratories and offices so the top researchers would want to come here." The 'best' includes cherry wood in labs, solid oak in offices, and air handling systems that allow air to circulate only once through the buildings.
Other amenities abound. On one side of the entrance, a gourmet coffee shop provides a meeting place for researchers and students. Behind the lobby, a 250-seat auditorium with comfortable chairs arranged in a semicircle is available for conferences and lectures.
According to Weckel, the lab floors each have 77 percent efficiency in usable space as compared to former designs with only 64 percent.''
Each laboratory floor includes a core of heavy equipment for filtration or heating. There are no false ceilings in this area. Looking up, one sees only red and yellow pipes for transmitting water and air. The core space also includes showers, darkrooms, and space for tissue culture. The interior core of each floor has alcoves and equipment such as fume hoods or tissue labs that can be used or varied according to the needs of each researcher.
In the laboratory spaces, rows of 7-1/2-foot (2.3-meter) workbenches end with wood paneling, and large windows contrast with the hard functionality of the center hall. A large space can be a single room or two or three modules. Each work station can be divided into spaces for a researcher and technicians many ways, with walls that can be removed if new researchers move into the space.
At the end of each floor there is a lounge space with snack machines, soft blue chairs, cherry wood tables, and a whiteboard. The lounge is supplied with newspapers and magazines so researchers and technicians won't drink coffee or eat snacks in the lab, a dangerous practice forbidden by the National Institutes of Health, which funds many of these laboratories.
The result of all these amenities? Happier researchers, one would presume, and ultimately more successful biomedical research to solve the world's health problems.
Diane M. Fiske is an architectural writer in Philadelphia.