[design '97]

Research and biotechnology: Science buildings are for scientists

Modern research is done by teams, and teams need to meet, working together without architectural barriers.

MBT Architecture

Washington has a growing research and biotechnology industry, founded on the strength of its scientists and the famous institutions which house their research. The people and the reputation of the University of Washington and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, as well as Washington State University and the Battelle Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, are attracting world class researchers to this state.

The entrepreneurial climate of Seattle encourages these scientists to join with venture capitalists in the development of commercial products based on local medical research. It helps that the region is home to a powerful software and microelectronics industry, and the future of biotechnology may lead in this direction. . .toward a union of microelectronics and biology.

Some of the strongest investments in biotechnology have come from the individual founders of Microsoft. The new science of bioinformatics, which includes the Human Genome Project, connects the two fields and has branch roots in Seattle at the laboratories of Dr. Leroy Hood at the University of Washington.

According to the Washington Biotechnology and Biomedical Association (WBBA), the state has over 100 bio companies employing over 10,000 people, at an average salary of $46,000. The industry seems poised on the edge of increased growth, which could dwarf the 43 percent job growth seen from 1990 to 1995. This is due to the great potential of products in the pipeline for local companies, plus emerging technologies.

As always, the success of these ventures will derive from the people who create them, and from the synergies present in a growing scientific region. Architects who wish to serve this growing industry will need to learn from the scientists themselves, understanding their goals, and experiencing their frustrations with facilities that do not work.

MBT's Genencor International Technology Center, the 1997 "Laboratory of the Year" as sponsored by R&D Magazine, features a whimsical curvilinear trellis at its entrance.

Facilities which work for science and biotechnology Scientists need a quiet, well equipped place to do research; they also need a place to interact with other scientists.

Modern research is done by teams, and teams need to meet, working together without architectural barriers.

Historically, the walls and barriers which have kept science labs in relative isolation have derived from safety concerns -- and a need for cleanliness. The laboratory environment has typically needed to be separated from the outside, either because it is cleaner and vulnerable to contamination from the outside, or more toxic and a source of possible contamination.

At the same time there is greater understanding of safety issues or greater environmental awareness. In fact, more than ever the budget of a lab facility today reflects expensive U.S. standards in the control of waste water, air stream emissions, hazardous chemicals and hazardous waste.

The technology of contamination control has improved. Spaces are pressurized and sealed to control the movement of contaminants, exhaust air is HEPA filtered and can be scrubbed, and fume hoods and bio-safety cabinets are used to isolate the sources.

Hazardous chemicals are better known and identified, and allowable quantities of these materials have been set, relevant to construction type. At the same time, science is trending towards miniaturization for much of its experiments, reducing the quantities of contaminants. The analytical process can be cleaner, using devices with more electronics and robotics. The net result is a reduction of the hazards in the lab which can lead to greater freedom in planning the building.

Achieving the goal of scientific interaction

Despite these constraints, the trend planning labs today is toward greater openness, removing the walls and barriers and letting in sunlight and outside awareness. Open labs foster better communication and better teamwork.

In planning for more open labs and better interaction among scientists, one of MBT Architecture's goals has been the elimination of the one-hour corridor. Given the strict exiting codes, one-hour corridors are required to be unfurnished, nearly lacking in interior windows. . .and as such they actually inhibit interaction, separating people.

Using a "control area" concept, fire-rated zones which each connect directly to a fire exit, MBT Architecture has been able to manipulate lab floor plans to eliminate rated corridors, in favor of usable connecting spaces. Activities and equipment and meeting alcoves are allowed in these spaces, and this is often where people stop to exchange ideas or read the bulletin board. A good example of this planning is the University of Washington K Wing Biomedical Sciences Research Building at the U of W Health Sciences campus, whose bright, daylit corridors are a welcome change from much of the adjacent Medical Center.

Innovative planning earned Genencor's Technology Center the Laboratory of the Year Award from R & D Magazine. Outside awareness and a view of the gardens is a feature of nearly all of the labs and offices. In the lab wings, the one-hour corridor is gone, in favor of open offices and team activity spaces which are immediately next to the labs. In this case we added a stair, which improved vertical interaction and solved the exiting (in lieu of the one-hour corridor).

The design emphasizes interaction among the scientists and administrators by bringing everyone together on an internal "street". . .a pedestrian spine linking both floors, both entries, and all of the functions. Everyone travels here, to pick up his mail, get an espresso, use a conference room or greet a visitor, and the spine is brightly daylit, with its own view of the gardens.

Flexibility as a response to change

The coer of the Genencor Technology Center is a two-story pedestrian spine linking labs and amenity spaces with gardens and entries.

Science is a restless pursuit and change is inevitable. Science buildings must be able to respond to future needs, future techniques, and future technologies. The use of modular labs is one strategy, which assumes that basic people dimensions and ergonomics are a constant, so that a furniture layout can be based on a predictable work space module, even if the table-top equipment and experiments change, along with those who use them.

Adaptable furniture is another technique for accommodating change. Countertops which can be adjusted in height to work for standing or sitting tasks, and under-counter casework modules which can be interchanged are designed to meet the individual needs of each researcher. Another level of adaptability is to specify completely movable furniture systems, but these are often inadequate for experiments which need a perfectly level or vibration-free surface.

Peter Hockaday FAIA is a principal with MBT Architecture, which recently opened an office in Seattle.

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