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Context Interface: New Science Buildings for Academic Campuses

Roger L. Spears, AIA, O'Brien/Atkins Associates

This poster will illustrate that the context for new science and technology buildings is as important to a productive and sustainable environment as the infrastructure of the building systems and laboratory configurations. This is particularly true of university campus environments in which scientific pursuits are expected to interact more readily with other academic disciplines.

There are numerous advantages to placing new academic laboratory facilities within an established academic campus environment. Such locations provide opportunities for conservation of land and capital resources in building placement, particularly because the university already owns the land. This includes displacing surface parking and making use of already existing utility, vehicle, and pedestrian infrastructures. Just as important are advantages to a sustainable, walkable environment with ease of access to other academic, dining, residential, and recreational facilities.

In spite of these advantages, the unique characteristics of this building type present campus planners and architects with particularly acute challenges in site selection and building design for new science research and teaching facilities. It is becoming increasingly difficult to integrate the scale of a contemporary science building with that of an older academic campus context. There is less room to build on, the buildings are larger, and the programs and infrastructure requirements are far more complex than the original campus planners could have imagined.

Through the use of three case studies this presentation will examine the advantages of overcoming the challenges to placing new science facilities within established academic campus environments.


This presentation will review three recent case studies from the architecture office of O'Brien/Atkins Associates. The new chemistry building designed for Florida State University has undergone an exhaustive site selection process to identify a suitable site within its established campus context. The new building's scale and its required proximity to the existing chemistry facilities are two paramount challenges in this project design. This presentation will examine this process of site selection, noting specific challenges and how they were evaluated and resolved. The University of North Carolina at Greensboro has recently completed a new chemistry and biology building on its existing campus in which city streets have been converted to pedestrian ways. This project is used by the University to promote its science programs while also adding clarity and quality to a poorly defined campus/town edge. The University of North Carolina at Asheville is in the final stages of design for a new chemistry and biology building that responds to particularly challenging topography in order to fit the new science building into the established academic context. In this situation the building weaves itself between a major street and a botanical garden, the existing science building and the principal cross axis of the campus plan.

Labs21 Connection:

The laboratory case study projects at Florida State University (FSU), University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG), and the University of North Carolina at Asheville (UNCA) utilize the following aspects of the Labs21 Approach:

Adopt Energy and Environmental Performance Goals:

  • FSU: Recommendations of the U.S. Green Building Council will be utilized throughout the building and site design for this project.
  • UNCG: This project was designed in accordance with LEED™ recommendations for Sustainable Sites, Energy and Atmosphere, and Indoor Environmental Quality.
  • UNCA: This is a pilot project for the Labs for the 21st Century program and is on track for attaining Silver LEED™ certification.

Use Lifecycle Cost Decision-Making:

  • FSU/UNCG/UNCA: All building materials and systems were/will be analyzed in terms of lifecycle cost.

Commission Equipment and Controls in New Construction and Retrofit Projects:

  • FSU: Will utilize independent commissioning during design and construction.
  • UNCG: Independent commissioning was utilized during construction.
  • UNCA: Independent commissioning reviews have been used throughout design and will continue during construction.

Employ a Broad Range of Sustainable Energy and Water Efficiency Strategies:

  • FSU: Will utilize a central plant for steam and chilled water, VAV for hoods and air distribution, heat recovery units, and daylighting.
  • UNCG: Included upgrades to the campus central plant. The building design utilized a glycol loop with heat recovery units, VAV for fume hoods, chilled water pumps, and air distribution as well as night setbacks for air changes.
  • UNCA: Design includes an enthalpy wheel heat recovery, VAV for hoods and air distribution, LEED™ Optimized Energy Performance - Level II, and optimum daylighting design for all occupied building areas.

Specify Green Construction Materials:

  • FSU: The design team will follow LEED™ recommendations in building material selection and construction waste management.
  • UNCA: Design meets the following for LEED™ credits: Construction Waste Management - Level 1, Recycled Content - Level 1, Local/Regional Materials - Level 1.


Roger L. Spears, AIA, has been a practicing architect for over 20 years and holds professional registration in the states of North Carolina and Texas. Trained at Iowa State University and Harvard's Graduate School of Design, Roger's work has been recognized by the American Institute of Architects Central States Region and has been published in a number of regional publications. He is a senior design architect with O'Brien/Atkins Associates in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina.

Roger's science facility design experience includes schematic design for the retrofit of a 420,000 square foot former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency laboratory facility into up-to-date lab space for new tenants; laboratory buildings for Alexandria Real Estate Equities, the nation's largest life science REIT; office and laboratory fit-up for the U.S. Department of Agriculture; and a $40 million chemistry building for Florida State University. He is currently designing major laboratory buildings for Idealliance in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, the Riverstone Technology Park in Halifax County, Virginia, and the Biomanufacturing Training and Education Center for NC State University. Roger was a recent presenter at the 2004 Lab Design Conference in San Diego and presented a poster at the Labs 21 2003 Annual Conference in Denver, Colorado.


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