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Planning for Sustainable Design

Ernie Staley, IDC Architects

This poster involves a 62,000 sq. ft. building that combines laboratories for research and production in chemistry and biology, as well as a quality control lab, auditorium and office space. The client is the Molecular Probes Inc. (MPI) division of Invitrogen Corporation, a world leader in the production of fluorescent dyes for biomedical and other scientific research. The client's objective was to achieve high-quality, cost-effective facilities to maintain the company's rapid growth and market superiority.

Adding to the project's challenges was the requirement for completion within an aggressive 18-month schedule. Our data gathering efforts began with close interaction with the facility's future occupants engaged in the distinctly different arenas of chemistry and biology.

The uniqueness of needs within these two groups was reflected in the building's design, which stacked two levels of chemistry labs and two levels of biology labs on either side of the building's main circulation and support spine. Our design team was challenged to create opportunities for resource sharing and collaboration between scientific disciplines. By carefully studying the respective needs of these two user groups, we determined that a deliberate separation by specialty would make the building's design inherently more sustainable. Concentrating the high-exhaust and utility-intensive chemistry labs in one, multistory zone allowed for optimized HVAC design, and also allowed lab benches on both floors to be served by a single utility lateral. Support functions common to the two research groups, such as glasswash and administrative support, were combined and centrally located for maximum space efficiency. The final design solution featured shared office zones and open, interactive meeting spaces along a "main street" which joined both laboratory wings. This approach supported this project's multiple goals of achieving functionality, sustainability, economy, and collaboration between the research groups.

Labs21 Connection:

Our experience in the design of technology-intensive buildings in dynamically evolving industries informed us that a client such as this would require flexibility in its laboratories enabling rapid and economical adaptation to new technologies. Labs were designed as large, open suites with a minimum of permanent walls to facilitate future facility reconfigurations. This focus on flexibility also improved sustainability, since it required fewer construction materials initially as well as downstream. Extensive planning of overhead utility zones allowed maximum ceiling heights without increasing floor depth, providing larger windows and better daylighting for the same overall building height. Indirect lighting performance was also increased by the higher ceilings. Detailed utility design enabled pre-fabrication of lab utility laterals offsite, minimizing time-consuming and costly on site fabrication activities while reducing construction materials required. Building corridors were configured to provide outside views from many parts of the building, including outdoor views at deep interior vantage points. This important design feature was facilitated by our unique design of the building's fire sprinkler system, which replaced standard fire-rated construction and expensive fire-glazing with standard glazing.

This project and our presentation reflects the principles of the Labs21 Approach to laboratory design in nearly every respect, especially regarding the project's careful pre-planned intent to apply a range of resource reduction strategies, incorporate natural energy resources, maintain sensitivity to life-cycle rather than short-term benefits, and apply a "whole buildings" approach.


Ernie Staley is the Senior Architect for Laboratory Design for IDC Architects, with expertise in the planning, design, project management, and technology of a wide range of research facilities. Projects he has been involved with include chemistry, biology, electronic, environmental, and astrophysics laboratories, many of which have included biocontainment requirements at the BSL-3 and BSL-4 levels.

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