In the new, $80 million McCourtney Hall of Molecular Science and Engineering at the University of Notre Dame in Notre Dame, Indiana, interdisciplinary discoveries became not just a goal for research, but a guiding principle in the building design.
Because collaboration so often generates innovation, the university located researchers from both the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry (College of Science) and Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering (College of Engineering) in the four-story, 220,000 square-foot McCourtney Hall. Designed to encourage interaction, the building incorporates social spaces and an open lab environment with state-of-the-art research space for tackling issues in drug discovery and chemical and biomolecular engineering. Architecture firm BSA LifeStructures of Indianapolis also worked with the university's team to provide long-term flexibility in the building systems.
Constructed by Shiel Sexton of Indianapolis and opened last fall, the building serves as the anchor for Notre Dame's new East Campus Research Complex.
Flexibility and Future-Proofing
To promote collaboration between researchers, the design team integrated large social spaces - mostly absent in other research facilities - into the "knuckle" where the two wings of the L-shaped building come together. That section includes conference and breakout rooms, lounge areas, many of the offices, and the main entrance, elevators, and stairs.
"Everyone has access to those features in the heart - or the living room - of the building," said Geoff Lisle, BSA LifeStructures' Architect and Principal-in-Charge. "It was designed that way to encourage interactions between researchers."
Outside the labs, open areas for graduate students facilitate conversations. The university also grouped researchers with common interests into "neighborhoods" to make collaboration easier.
For efficiency, "We looked at common support facilities, imaging, and other types of specialty equipment and where those could be co-located so that everyone could take advantage of them," Lisle said.
In addition to collaboration and interaction, flexibility became a primary focus for the design. "Some people think flexibility is just a matter of moving casework around," Lisle said. "To me, flexibility goes beyond that. Yes, we have a lot of mobile casework, but we also sized HVAC, MEP, and other building systems to accommodate many things. Older lab buildings sometimes can't add a new hood in one lab without taking a hood out of another lab because the supply system can't accommodate it. We did a lot of analysis to make the building systems forward-thinking and allow them to change over time. If they need more capacity in compressed air, lab vacuum, or gas systems, they have infrastructure in place so they can easily tap into that."
The team also designed modular research labs to accommodate evolving science and changing team sizes. "Old-school thinking is that everyone has their lab walled off with a door," Lisle explained. "We discussed building walls where you need them - but not having fixed walls if you don't need them. Without a lot of hard walls, there's more flow between a block of labs. We also used glass whenever possible to provide transparency and visibility."
The modular design allows for more efficient changes. "If there's empty space next to a researcher who's gotten a new grant and now needs a little more room, they can take over that next module of lab space without necessarily taking down any walls or reconfiguring," Lisle said. "The changeover can happen quickly without spending more money."
To remain flexible into the future, McCourtney Hall includes significant shell space. "The university wanted to not only create cutting-edge lab space for the researchers there today, but also use it as a recruiting tool to attract new researchers," Lisle explained. "We looked at how we could give the university flexibility down the road, or future-proof it, if you will.
Safety and Sustainability
To ensure the new building met safety standards, "We conducted a lot of wind testing early on to look at the impact of McCourtney Hall on nearby buildings from an exhaust and air intake standpoint, as well as to look at how other buildings might impact ours," Lisle said. "We don't want any chemicals going where they aren't supposed to go."
Cermak, Peterka, Peterson (CPP) of Fort Collins, Colorado, designed and built a 1:240 scale model, including nearby existing structures, dormitories currently under construction, and other planned buildings within 1,360 feet of McCourtney Hall. CPP then tested the model in an atmospheric boundary layer wind tunnel to assess air quality performance.
In addition to guiding the placement of exhaust systems and air intake areas, "We used that same wind modeling to fine-tune our exhaust system so we're exhausting appropriately but not spending any more energy than necessary," Lisle said.
The results helped the design team right-size equipment. CPP also recommended an anemometer location, height, and model to measure wind speed and wind direction. Data from the anemometer allows the Building Automation System to reduce exhaust volume flow rates under most wind conditions in order to save energy costs.
Even though research buildings tend to use more energy, the project is targeting LEED Gold certification. Energy-saving features include heat recovery systems for both air intake and exhaust, LED lighting, occupancy sensors, and high-efficiency lab exhaust hoods. The grounds around the building feature a rain garden and sustainable irrigation.
Reflecting New and Old
McCourtney Hall began the formation of the new East Campus Research Complex, with an internal courtyard shared by future research buildings. "There was a lot of discussion about what makes sense on the site," Lisle said. "How will the exterior reflect the new quad? How does it reflect back on the campus as far as materials?"
In making those choices, "The exterior of the building is dictated by the architectural style that fits in the context of the campus fabric, which is predominantly collegiate gothic," Lisle added. "We used brick, cast stone, and slate on the roof. The windows have an historic look, but they're all thermally broken, high-efficiency window systems. We combined high-tech options with traditional features to deliver an innovative solution."
Cast-in-place concrete formed the base of the building structure. "We looked at both concrete and steel, and concrete made the most sense," Lisle said. "It allows for vibration control, which was important given the types of research going on inside, plus a thinner structural system."
Throughout the design process, BSA LifeStructures worked with faculty researchers, as well as their graduate assistants and support staff. "That interaction with the research teams is one of the things that makes the building a success," Lisle said. "Having them at the table to work through issues is really, at the end of the day, what makes it work for them."
According to Robert Bernhard, Notre Dame's Vice President for Research, "I'm really anticipating some magic to happen here. I think that within a couple years, we're going to hear some stories where something really significant comes out of interdisciplinary interaction."
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