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Rice University: Collaborative Research Center

Carrie Byles, Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, LLP
Ted Athanas, P.E., Bard, Rao + Athanas Consulting Engineers, LLC

The Collaborative Research Center is an unprecedented multi-institutional experiment designed to foster interdisciplinary collaborations and align unexpected partnerships in innovative research.

Rice University has a long history of productive collaboration with Texas Medical Center, providing a strong foundation for extensive educational and research interactions and developments in the areas of biological sciences, bioengineering, biotechnology, nanoscale science, information technology, and environmental sciences.

The main research laboratories sit on a podium containing shared science facilities, classrooms and other teaching facilities, and public gathering spaces. The emphasis on bringing the laboratories into social spaces recognizes the vision that is much of scientific discovery.

A sustainable approach to the design and construction incorporates human and environmental issues. Taking advantage of Houston's rainy climate, Skidmore, Owings and Merril, LLP (SOM), in collaboration with Bard, Rao + Athanas Consulting Engineers, LLC (BR+A), included run-off water storage and specified sod roofs on portions of the building. The building will be energy-efficient in part due to its heat wheel systems, which will capture the energy of conditioned air, rather than allowing it to escape into the atmosphere. The air quality of the building will be continuously monitored in order to optimize the frequency of air exchange. From a materials perspective, the building will be constructed of recycled concrete and steel, as well as regional brick. Though the use of wood is minimal in this project, SOM has nevertheless specified certified wood. Daylight has been maximized throughout the building, particularly in the laboratory and office spaces.

Maintaining a rigorous schedule was of primary importance to the client, and ultimately controlled the project cost and scope. SOM/BR+A developed a scheduling model that "packaged" the various phases of construction into discrete, workable units. By breaking up these duties, SOM/BR+A were able to produce results earlier than if they had followed the traditional trajectory of design phases. That said, the excavation package was completed at 50 percent schematic design and the foundation package for the building was completed at the beginning of design development. Subcontractors were involved early on in the process, which allowed a commitment, as a team, to a specified cost. SOM/BR+A worked closely with the client to define a scope that would meet the good management practices and stay on schedule. Costs were reviewed regularly and meticulously with the contractor.


Carrie Byles, a managing partner of SOM West Coast, has more than 20 years of diverse experience in design, technology, and management, with special emphasis on projects with complex programmatic and technological requirements. She is passionate about multi-disciplinary, research-based design and the benefits it can bring to our lives.

With her background in both architecture and digital design, Carrie has a lifelong commitment to understanding how information technology is changing the way we live, and she translates this influence into SOM's building designs. Examples of these technological advances can be seen in projects such as the Stanford Center for Innovations in Learning and the Library and Information Technology Center at University of California at Merced, which was designed to LEED® Gold standard. Her laboratory projects at Rice and Harvard Universities will incorporate the latest initiatives in multi-disciplinary scientific research and the use of space and technology to facilitate further collaboration and the spontaneous generation of new ideas.

Ted Athanas, as one of the founding principals of Bard, Rao + Athanas Consulting Engineers, Inc., has over 30 years of mechanical engineering experience and has overseen the design and integration of mechanical systems for a broad range of building projects for a variety of healthcare and research clients nationwide.

Mr. Athanas has been honored by ASHRAE with an Energy and Refrigeration Award for the design of systems for an academic research facility.

Mr. Athanas is a graduate of the Athens Technical Institute and is a member of ASHRAE, the American Society of Plumbing Engineers, and the Society of Fire Protection Engineers, and is a member of the U.S. Green Building Council.

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