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Washington University Earth & Planetary Sciences – Sustainable High-tech Labs in an Historic Campus Setting

J. Erik Mollo-Christensen, AIA, Tsoi/Kobus & Associates
Richard R. Janis, PE, William Tao & Associates

The new Earth & Planetary Sciences (EPSc) building at Washington University houses technically advanced science teaching and research in a traditional gothic building. The university's campus is Jacobean gothic, using local stone materials in a historical style, an east-west orientation, and careful integration into the topography and landscape. The EPSc department studies both traditional geological science as well as interplanetary physical science, and is directly involved in the current Mars rover missions. Laboratories include clean rooms for trace metal analysis. In addition to using local exterior materials, the envelope is designed for optimal heat conservation, and the HVAC and fume hood systems are designed for low-flow. Technical systems include low-flow fume hoods, occupancy-based room ventilation, efficient lighting, and low water use.


Designing a sustainable building is fully compatible with a strictly defined architectural style, as well as very demanding high-tech lab space. Creating good visual and sustainable architecture does not have to be compromised for lab safety and unusually demanding internal conditions.

Labs21 Connection:

Washington University has made a commitment to energy conservation and sustainable design by defining very strict requirements for building components and systems, as well as defining a compelling visual style not usually associated with cutting edge technical design. The "new science in an old wrapper" approach has met the University's broad goals for maintaining an historical campus image, and also made campus buildings unusually low consumers of energy and resources.

Interior materials for both lab and public spaces include low VOC coatings (even in clean labs), natural terrazzo and linoleum flooring in most areas, strategic combination of artificial lighting and daylighting, and lab casework from local sources.

Mechanical systems have been designed to allow unoccupied and night setback modes in many small zones, to optimize energy usage, while still maintaining a variety of special lab conditions for ultra-clean trace metal research as well as traditional wet science labs.


J. Erik Mollo-Christensen, AIA, is a principal of Tsoi/Kobus & Associates. Erik has nearly 30 years of professional experience including architecture and interior design on a wide variety of project types. His work includes the design of both new and renovated laboratory, corporate, office, industrial, and institutional facilities with a particular emphasis on coordination of complex engineering systems and managing large multi-disciplinary design teams. Erik has been recognized as a lab and vivarium planning expert through numerous trade conference presentations.

Erik was recently a member of two NIH committees reviewing national and regional biocontainment facilities proposals. As an expert on lab and vivarium design, Erik reviewed applications for BSL3 and BSL4 facilities to be constructed throughout the U.S. as part of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases' biodefense initiative for research activities for Category A, B, and C agents.

Erik holds a Bachelor of Architecture from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Richard R. Janis, PE, LEED™ Accredited, is a practicing professional engineer with more than 20 years of experience. His work includes research, evaluation and design of building environmental systems and sustainable energy technology. As manager for most of his firm's master planning and high-tech projects, he is responsible for establishing design criteria, systems selection, utility requirements, design implementation, and planning commissioning efforts. Innovative concepts in laboratory and data center projects have won national design awards.

He is author of Mechanical and Electrical Systems in Buildings (Prentice Hall 1997, 2001) and numerous articles on topical issues in the field. As an affiliate Associate Professor, Mr. Janis teaches building technology courses including "Climate and Light" at Washington University School of Architecture and "Engineering Systems Parameters" in the School of Engineering.
Rich is active in U.S. Green Building Council St. Louis, having served on the Executive Committee since the Chapter's inception in 2002. He is also active in the International Facility Managers Association, is a past Chapter President, and has presented papers on sustainable design topics at World Workplace. He was educated at University of Missouri at Rolla, where he received his B.S. Degree in Mechanical Engineering. His graduate work includes a Master of Architecture and an M.S. in Building Environmental Systems from Washington University.


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