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Double Smart

Sofia Galadza, October 2006 Download PDF

Two Institutions – University at Buffalo New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences and the Roswell Park Cancer Institute Center for Genetics and Pharmacology – come together in a cutting-edge research center designed by Francis Cauffman Foley Hoffman Architects.

Two heads are better than one. This idea parallels the reasoning for putting two research institutions into a single building. “If you have more collaboration, you have a more good ideas, which in science leads to more momentum-making discoveries,” says Dr. David Hohn, president and CEO of Roswell Park Cancer Institute (RPCI). But for those ideas to spark, researchers need more than cutting-edge labs and spaces conducive to long work hours. Open floor plans and shared common areas that foster chance encounters also are essential. The designers from Philadelphia-based Francis Cauffman Foley Hoffman (FCFH) Architects took Hohn’s thoughts as their starting point.

Central to the research mission at RPCI – the oldest cancer research facility in the United States – was dealing with new disciplines in sciences, including bioinformatics (a combination of applied mathematics, biology, statistics, information technology, and computer science to solve biological problems), computational biology, and pharmaceutical chemistry. The New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences, which is a part of the University of Buffalo (UB), merges high-end technology such as supercomputing and visualization with research in genomics, proteomics, and bio-imaging. Here, scientists examine the mechanics of disease – specifically cardiovascular and neurodegenerative disorders and cancer – and develop solutions and treatments. Co-locating the institutions, Hohn says was synergistic.

Steve Lebowitz, director of design at FCFH, recalls the requests that followed his firm winning the commission. “They were looking for a building that could attract top-level researchers to Buffalo, N.Y.,” he recalls. “They believed the architecture of the building and the design of the laboratory spaces – and how they flowed and functioned – could in fact be instrumental in helping to support their quest.” Moreover, it had to support those who were already there with autonomous yet cohesive environments. The solution: two separate building linked by common spaces, measuring a total of 290,000 sq. ft. Located on the south edge of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, the west building belongs to UB, while RPCI is on the east side. The ground floor of the RPCI building is the hub of visitor reception and formal meetings, as well as a shared café, auditorium, and conference rooms. The projects was completed last spring.

Several features made this facility innovative, particularly in the field of laboratory design. Among the most obvious is the open architecture. “We had doors where necessary, but otherwise, there were no walls between the units. And since we assign space by research teams, we wanted teams to have identity, but also let them inter-mingle with those nearby, because they’ll all assign space based on continuum of function.” Hohn says, adding that removing walls made financial sense. “Its more efficient. You’re not wasting walls or spending extra money on heating and cooling.” Also, he reminds, with fewer doors, less square footage is required for swing space.

On the RPCI side, Lebowitz implemented a system of “pods,” two-story spaces that connect floors, complete with lounges for informal meetings and breaks. “The open architecture and pod systems actually allow for collaboration – something that absolutely had to occur in order to meet one of our missions, which is to have these as integrated functions so that you shave time off the typical program plan for discovery,” says Dr. Bruce Holm, director of the UB’s Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences.

The majority of funding for the two buildings came from New York State. Publicly funded buildings rarely receive support for non-research functions. To maximize permissible funding, which is done on a per-square-foot basis, the design team consolidated functions and conceived highly efficient floor plans. Labs are linked to each other – and to the private offices – by a dual-function corridor that serves as equipment space. The added benefit to making the corridor “functional” space is that large, noisy equipment is not bothering the researchers in their labs.

One of the most innovative features of this project is the environmental story. The building is in the process of getting Silver LEED certification, which is difficult to achieve in such a building where energy costs run high because air cannot be recirculated, and computers and scientific equipment require greater power and extensive cooling. The design team improved overall energy efficiency by 30 percent (compared with standard energy requirements) with high-efficiency lighting, HVAC equipment, and glazed windows. A low-emission roof reduces cooling costs, and low-VOC-emitting materials contributed to the LEED checklist. But the most obvious feature is the ample access to daylight.

The designers had an imaginative approach in evoking the concepts of science and discovery. First, there are no straight corridors. “The interior layout symbolized the process of problem-solving,” explains Lebowitz. In the office portions, splayed and irregular long corridors turn into intriguing offshoots. The corridors are lit with mushroom-shaped ceiling fixtures, set in a random pattern.

Holm says that from both altruistic and business perspectives, research – especially when it involves disease prevention and cures – needs to be conducted as swiftly and as efficiently as possible. “The more efficient it is, the less it costs,” he says, “and the sooner we can get our findings and products to those that need them.”


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