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The City of Philadelphia Forensic Science Center: Planning/Design Challenges & Lessons Learned

Ken Mohr, Health, Education + Research Associates, Inc.
Randolph R. Croxton, Croxton Collaborative Architects

Site selection, planning and design of the 46,000 square foot Philadelphia Forensic Sciences Center started in 1999 at the beginning of a city-wide campaign for sustainable design in municipal buildings; this replacement police forensic laboratory facility preceded the release of LEED™ version 1.0, although Versions 1.0 and 2.0 were used as reference points during the development of the project. The Forensic Sciences Center incorporated a number of significant and demanding sustainable design and construction attributes that resulted in maximum facility performance while minimizing resource utilization during design, construction, and operations. In addition, the City of Philadelphia's strategic plan called for stabilizing key neighborhoods that were socially weakening and physically deteriorating. To this end, the City offered the Police Department the site of an abandoned 1920's art deco high school—the Wister School, located in a vulnerable near-north side neighborhood—for the new forensic laboratory.

The Forensic Science Center includes criminalistics and DNA laboratories for hair/fiber/blood analysis, chemistry laboratories for drug analysis, crime scene units for 24/7 crime scene evidence gathering, and firearms units including a ballistics analysis shooting range.
The design team's (see below) evaluation of the existing facility identified a number of features of the facility that were suitable for a contemporary forensic laboratory, and some that initially were not. Those suitable features included an existing building structural spacing able to accommodate contemporary modular lab design, location within a mature urban area hosting existing utility and mass transportation services, and the opportunity to completely renovate the exterior and interior architectural and MEP systems to ensure integrated design regarding building finishes, fixtures, and systems. Those features that were not suitable included an inadequate building structural system that, when carefully mapped for structural capacities, required structural upgrades to less than 10 percent of the floor area.

Design Team:

  • Croxton Collaborative, New York, NY: prime architect and sustainable design experts.
  • Cecil Baker Associates, Philadelphia, PA: associate architect and manager.
  • Pace Engineering, Philadelphia, PA: mechanical, electrical and plumbing engineering.
  • Health, Education + Research Associates, Inc., St. Louis, MO: forensic laboratory design expert.
  • Keating Construction Co., Philadelphia, PA: general contractor.


  • At the time, manufacturers of laboratory facility equipment, finishes and casework, did not meet our specifications for genuine sustainable features, so we had to make compromises on some systems.
  • Human-centered design strategy took advantage of the inherent high ratio of glass at the exterior wall in conjunction with ceiling geometries, solar control, and high reflectance interior finishes achieving dramatic, diffused, deep daylighting.
  • Pressure mapping of the entire new facility design, based on a fully integrated energy optimization design process, allowed the non-lab two-thirds of the building to be effectively separated from the constant 100 percent outside air requirements of the lab spaces. Additionally, super-insulated building shell upgrades, deep-day lighting, and a roof top 15kW photovoltaic system were included in a full system modeling (using DOE 2.0 and Superlite 2.0) and confirmed a 72 percent reduction in total annual source energy, 61 percent reduction in annual peak electrical demand, and 65 percent reduction in CO2, SO2 and NOx emissions, with a 2.2 year payback for energy strategies.
  • A Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection "Growing Greener Grant" provided the opportunity to incorporate an integrated landscape/parking design that significantly reduced storm surge by installing pervious areas of parking with pervious vegetated swales providing bio-remediation of run-off and reduction of storm water volumes flowing into the city sewers.

Labs21 Connection:

In the case of this project, the project team was "lucky" in many ways: the slenderness and north-south orientation of the existing building, with minimal shadow impact from adjacent buildings, combined with an existing structural system that mandated putting the heaviest program (i.e. equipment) at the center of the building. This allowed for the successful "mapping" of the building with all of the people-occupied spaces directly adjacent to the windowed perimeter, and then let the non-occupied shared equipment and service spaces consume the center of the building. This same mapping was applied to the building's systems: equipment needing predictable servicing and adjustment over the future life of the building was placed over these same central service areas, allowing the mission of the building to be uninterrupted, with the bulk of access and maintenance occurring over circulation areas. These issues, in combination with the above sustainable design strategies and methods allowed the design team to meet the expectations of the Labs21 Approach by minimizing overall environmental impacts, protect occupant safety, optimize whole building efficiency, and establish an ability to track and share resource performance of the new Forensic Science Center.


Ken Mohr is a principal and senior lab planner at Health, Education + Research Associates in St. Louis, and brings over 16 years of laboratory experience to his clients. Ken's strengths are in the areas of planning analysis and design, and as a facilitator for programming work sessions. His strong design and technical background enables him to efficiently complete new and renovation design of technically demanding projects from programming and schematic design phases through construction administration. He has worked with numerous universities, academic medical centers, corporations, and governmental agencies, collecting years of lessons learned from clients. These labs include research, animal, analysis, teaching, and manufacturing facilities. Ken is also an author of special guideline publications, as well as articles on programming tools and designing for science. He speaks on a variety of planning topics at conferences and workshops.

Randolph R. Croxton is internationally recognized as a pioneer and innovator in the achievement of environmental and sustainable architectural design, and is a principle at the Croxton Collaborative Architects in New York City. Mr. Croxton, in the period 1988-2004, as architect or associated architect, has completed, or currently has underway more than 40 building projects, master plans and commissioned strategic plan documents which constitute a critical mass in the advancement of environmental/sustainable design. Mr. Croxton has been at the center of creating the environmental/sustainable guidelines for what has been characterized by many as a seminal project of our time: rebuilding the World Trade Center.

Mr. Croxton has pursued his private practice in parallel with his distinguished service to the profession which includes a four-year term as New York's Regional Director on the National AIA Board, and two-year term as Chairman of the AIA/ACSA Research Council. Serving first as liaison in the formation of the Committee on the Environment, he was instrumental in the early planning of the AIA's Environmental Resource Guide, and successfully advocated sustainable architecture as a major AIA focus. Mr. Croxton, as member of the 1993 Convention Planning Committee, successfully advocated sustainability as the central theme of the Convention, and proposed key organizational concepts which were developed and incorporated at the 1993 Chicago Convention.


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