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University Neuroscience Complex Integrates Laboratory Flexibility with Sustainability

Roger Goldstein, Goody Clancy

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Brain and Cognitive Sciences Complex is the world's largest neuroscience research building. It includes wet and dry laboratories, sophisticated equipment, and a vivarium on a constrained urban site bisected by a live rail line. Sustainable design was integrated from the start, and the project is currently in LEED® Silver certification review.

Located on the edge of the MIT campus, the building occupies a former brownfield site. Public transportation is nearby and parking for 100 bicycles encourages environmentally-friendly commuting.

The building literally bridges over the railroad line, connecting the two-part site in a 60,000-square-foot footprint. Special foundation design mitigates the low-frequency vibration caused by the trains, preventing interference with such sensitive equipment as MRI imaging and electrophysiology apparatus.

Every design decision—including sustainability—supports the underlying objective of creating an interactive science community. Extensive daylighting and interior glazing not only save energy but ensure that the occupants are visually connected with each other and with the outside. Maximum daylight is achieved through the use of oversized exterior windows, full-height curtainwall with fritting, and a five-story sky-lit atrium at the building's heart, spanned by an innovative tension-net cable-truss system. Laboratories, offices, and social spaces ring the atrium with interior windows, and extensive glass between perimeter laboratories and corridors provides borrowed daylight. Occupancy sensors for lighting control further reduce electricity use.

Energy efficiency as a design driver is apparent in the high-performance wall assembly with full air-vapor barrier, as well as Low-E glazing. The HVAC system incorporates variable air volume controls, heat recovery on the exhaust air-stream, and reduced air volume on the fume hoods via occupancy sensors. The building consumes 15 percent less energy, on a square foot basis, than comparable Labs21 buildings.

Water management is a major sustainable feature. The roof drains include weirs, permitting the roof to temporarily retain up to 38,000 gallons in a major storm. Rain water, along with reject water from the pure water system, is collected in a cistern beneath the building's entry plaza. This gray-water is recycled for flushing toilets; excess water is gradually discharged to the storm drain.

The fact that this building could be successfully inserted onto such a difficult site, and provide a sophisticated, flexible, appealing research environment in spite of the constraints is a major accomplishment. As a bold urban design and building design, it demonstrates that cutting-edge laboratory design can incorporate sustainability transparently and cost effectively.


Roger Goldstein's projects have included both new construction and the renovation of older buildings. He has been a member of the Goody Clancy staff for over 28 years and is currently one of the company's laboratory design specialists. His current and recent laboratory and research facility work includes: the Drug Discovery Building at the Medical University of South Carolina, MIT's Brain and Cognitive Sciences Project, a research facility for the University of Connecticut Health Center, a renovation of MIT's Dreyfus Chemistry Laboratories, the Neuropsychiatric Research Institute for the University of Massachusetts Medical School, and the Koch Biology Building at MIT.

Mr. Goldstein is also the firm's leader in the design of high-tech classrooms and business schools, including the F.W. Olin Graduate School Building for Babson College, the Smith Academic Technology Center at Bentley College, and the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University.

His concentration on life science research facilities has included roles as a workshop leader for Project Kaleidoscope (PKAL), and as a contributing writer to PKAL's Structures for Science handbook. He has also published articles in the 2006 Laboratory Design Handbook and Cell Magazine.

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