Wednesday, July 13, 2011

LSY architects design innovation and collaboration into new SZI space

We spent some time with Uri Yokel and Heather Johnson of Louviere, Stratton, & Yokel, LLC, chief designers of our new Sheikh Zayed Institute space. LSY specializes in the design of research laboratories.

How did you come up with the concept for the space? We were thrilled to get the job. We developed the concept through a series of meetings with Sheikh Zayed leadership including Kurt Newman and then individually and collectively met with different researchers, including Eric Hoffman, Tony Sandler, Ray Sze, and Julia Finkel (the founding faculty members). We saw three primary design drivers based on our meetings:
  • Collaboration: the overlap of different disciplines all in one area brings the kind of discovery that you don’t get if you’re in your own little space. The scientists were 100 percent behind us. We presented several concepts to the group, and everybody gravitated to the one that fostered the most interaction.
  • Sustainability: every part of this lab is sustainable, from floor to ceiling. Children’s made a commitment to this from the beginning. It’s very hard to do in a lab space–usually labs are inefficient because of safety requirements.
  • Representing the Institute’s mission: the home of the institute should convey the spirit of discovery as well as the generosity of its benefactors. Think of the “entry sequence”: as you approach the space, you are greeted first by the graphic logo, then you turn and see the colorful high tech serpentine wall that leads you right by a portal into the big lab, so you get a view of actual science as you’re headed to the director’s suite. We think it helps the institute convey the discovery image along the way.
What do you mean by “sustainable”? We applied the criteria of the USGBC for LEED certification. At present, the Institute design has a LEED Gold certification pending, with some 50-odd criteria that must be met. Though some measure of sustainability is mainstream in our business, LEED Gold for a lab space is very difficult to achieve. Some examples of sustainable features include:
  • Floors—linoleum made with natural materials rather than usable/sustainable. Shelving and other furniture uses
  • Forest Stewardship Council sources of wood
  • Air supply recycling with advanced energy recovery to collect energy from exhaust
  • Reduced overall energy consumption—20 to 30 percent lower than a normal lab.
Can you point out one or two things in the space that you think are particularly unique or interesting? The visual aspect of the design. You can be in any corridor or space and see something special from somewhere. We designed curved walls throughout the lab. You are never too far away from something that’s visually interesting. We made a conscious decision to harness great natural light and the views to the south, as well. We wanted to give as many people access to those views as possible. We built some things in the lab you don’t notice, but are really important:
  • Flexibility: we designed a case work system where benches are not connected to the floor, i.e., any bench can be totally removed. We can remove them without even having to get a contractor involved. Benches can also be raised and lowered and cabinets are on wheels to increase flexibility.
  • The bioengineering lab design is completely unique: we included flexibility to allow power/data to come in through the floor. The ceiling is structural ceiling to allow for equipment to hang—it can support a maximum concentrated load of 621 lbs. static, and 38 lbs. per sq. ft. dynamic. Just as a comparison, a standard panel ceiling supports approximately 3 to 4 lbs per square foot.
What were some of the challenges you faced on this project? Children’s National has an established standard color palette. It was an interesting and welcome challenge to represent this palette (geared towards children and families) in a sophisticated way. The shape of the space was another welcome challenge. If you look at the blueprint, it’s not a rectangle—it’s shaped like an airplane. These “renovation” designs are a fun challenge—you have to work with the existing space rather than just creating a new building from scratch. Finally, the timeline was challenging. Usually a lab of this size and scope takes six months to design and 10 months to build. Design started around November/December, construction started April/May 2010. It was completed in March 2011. Children’s construction team, led by Lee Barton, was instrumental in making the expedited timeline happen.

How did you get started working in this specific area? We are specialized in research and development, laboratory, research facilities, and clinical space designs. All of the partners at LSY come from a background working in research space. It’s a niche that we really like for two reasons:
  • The challenge of addressing technical/safety issues (air flow, etc.) and also making it an enjoyable space for people to work in.
  • We enjoy working with researchers: they pick up concepts quickly and are interested in innovation, so as clients they’re great.
Can you give us some examples of other projects you’ve worked on recently? We work with various universities including the University of Pittsburgh, George Mason, and Virginia Tech. We also do some work for the NIH and the FDA. NIH also engages LSY as peer reviewers for labs nationally and internationally, which gives us firsthand views of cutting edge work in lab design.

How is lab design different from other forms of space planning/design? Technical issues/requirements. Besides safety, there is a lot of very highly sophisticated equipment that requires a special environment. If you look at the drawing of a lab vs. the drawing of an office, you’d be surprised at the difference—there many more notes, and many more details in lab design to handle the complexity, which is what makes it so interesting to us.

If there’s one thing that you want people to understand about the design concept for the Sheikh Zayed Institute space, what is it? We want people to say, “My god this must be a vital place—a place where something important is going on.” We think this space reflects the Children’s image but still relays the science. We want people to walk by and say, “Something’s going on in there, let me take a peek through that window.”

Anything else you’d like to add? Just that we are so appreciative that Children’s put their trust in us on this project. Hopefully we satisfied and delighted them with the end result.

Read more about the new space.

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