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Sustainable Strategies: From Building Organization to Detail - IMM University of Texas Medical Center, Houston

Mark Shapiro, BNIM Architects

The design for the Fayez S. Sarofim Research Institute, home for the Brown Foundation Institute of Molecular Medicine for the Prevention of Human Disease (IMM) at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston, is based on the institution's desire to create a highly collaborative research environment that encourages both formal and informal interaction among all members of the research teams. Our design response was a vertical campus comprised of spatial typologies or species specifically designed to optimize the functional, comfort, and support needs of the diverse uses that make up the program. Communal spaces—an atrium, auditorium, catering kitchen and conference rooms—inhabit the ground floor and surround a reflecting pool. The upper floors are home for the labs, and computational research and office spaces, all organized around the upper volume of the atrium and reflecting pool.

The building incorporates sustainable design strategies at many scales:

  • Building orientation.
  • Optimized penetration and control of natural daylighting in relationship to the differing programmatic elements of flexible laboratory space, support laboratories, offices, and common areas.
  • Sectional organization that optimizes the spatial characteristics of different program elements.
  • Separate office and lab elements that allow the environmental control system to capture and reuse energy.
  • A reinforced concrete column and slab structure employs high fly ash concrete thereby reducing the upstream impact of the building.
  • Cladding and finishes based on a palette of natural, sustainable and low VOC-emitting materials.
  • A terra cotta rain screen cladding system helps provide a building envelope with reduced energy loss/gain as well as reduced likelihood of moisture penetration in the harsh Houston climate.
  • Provision was made for future photovoltaic panels.

Labs21 Connection:

The building was planned as the second LEED® Gold or Platinum building for the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston. The design originally included a micro turbine-based cooling and energy system, operable windows in offices, green roofs, a gray water system, and a constructed wetland storm water retention system. These elements were eliminated when the university policy on sustainability was changed during the design process. Nevertheless, the current design could accommodate most of these features in the future. At the time of the decision to retreat from a sustainable strategy, the client believed that cost and schedule would be adversely impacted for a building of this type, in the hot and humid climate of Houston. The integrity of the design as proposed, with efficient and controllable systems, a tight and well-insulated envelope, durable and maintainable systems, flexible and changeable office and lab environments, and well-shaded fenestration systems, remained intact despite the change in direction. Regardless of the decision regarding LEED the scientists will enjoy an environment that enables innovation and collaboration that will lead to better treatments or the elimination of human disease.


Mark Shapiro, AIA, Principal, brings to his role of Project Designer/Architect a wealth of experience earned through his professional and academic career. With over 27 years of experience in the profession, he has been recognized with many honors and awards for his work, has exhibited across the world, and has been published extensively. He previously taught at Syracuse and Tulane Universities and was Head of the Department of Architecture at Kansas State University. He also served as Director of the Kansas City Academic Program where he continues to teach a design studio.

Mark's advice and expertise are sought by academic institutions and organizations. He is frequently invited to participate in Design Juries, and has been a visiting critic and an invited lecturer both on the national and international scene. Throughout his career, he has participated in many design competitions, produced a variety of studies, solved urban planning issues and analyzed issues of historic contexts such as the National Endowment for the Arts funded "Six City Sites: New Buildings in Historic Districts" study in New Orleans. His competition entries have included the New Orleans Museum of Art, Felix Nussbaum Museum, Cardiff Bay and Oslo Opera Houses, the South African Constitutional Court, the Grand Egyptian Museum, and the Hermann Park competitions.

While with BNIM Architects, Mark has worked on several projects on both a local and national level, including the Kansas City Art Institute Masterplan, the Johnson County Office Building Competition, Miller Housing on the Plaza and the Urban Redevelopment Plan for the city of North Charleston, South Carolina. He is currently working on the design for the Institute of Molecular Medicine Research Laboratory at the University of Texas in Houston.

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