or constraining the research plan layout.
The mechanical distribution strategy is
perhaps the most important determinant of a
successful interdisciplinary science building.
This is because the real magic of an interdisciplinary environment isn’t plug-and-play
casework, but plug-and-play infrastructure.
With the proliferation of equipment-based, sensitive research, the key to
flexibility is in having access to the right
infrastructure in the right place. Increasingly, research buildings are conceived before
the institution determines the final population, and so buildings must be adaptable
at high levels all through design and into
occupancy. However, efficiency dictates this
shouldn’t be about oversizing systems. It’s
about providing oversized routings.
Deploying generous mechanical shafts
and spare electrical conduits, it’s possible
to design buildings that welcome rather
than fear the arrival of a new researcher. In
this approach we simply provide the routes
up-front and add the real capacity only
when necessary. The base building includes
some level of excess capacity for the future,
but if the systems are scalable, they can be
expanded when needed.
The final ingredient in a collaborative
design is perhaps the biggest driver in
transforming from a flexible space to an
interdisciplinary facility. Building designs
have long recognized interaction is an
essential ingredient to an attractive and
functional research environment. All too
often, research buildings contain beautifully
designed ay-lit lounges and meeting rooms
that sit empty while researchers are buried
deep in the interior, isolated from one
Unfortunately, the increase in lab specialization and compartmentalization comes at
the expense of the open, collaborative space
that naturally brings researchers together.
Collaboration still happens here, but interdisciplinary interaction is harder to achieve.
Experience also tells us that focusing all our
effort in one place like a vast atrium rarely
succeeds. The key to generating a connected
community includes bridging all floors, but
it must do so through multiple modalities
and functional spaces. The lounge or coffee
station can only go so far.
At Boston Univ., we have linked meeting
spaces, kitchenettes and informal gathering spaces together in one hub. Impor-
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tantly, this is positioned in a prominent
location in the building with a view of
the Charles River and direct adjacency to
the labs, offices and write-up desks. This
area is connected to all floors through an
elegant, but not extravagant, open stair.
The floor-to-floor height is kept low ( 14
ft), and the functional meeting rooms are
deployed as shared facilities with slightly
different accommodations on each floor.
The Boston Univ. project has just begun
construction so its operational model is
still coming into focus. At this stage the
plan allows for the deployment of a wide
range of research and the individual floors
are inextricably connected. The public or
shared spaces were designed with direction
from the entire research population, so the
building answers to both the specialized
needs of the individual scientists and the
interactive needs of the collective group.
While the systems are designed to adapt and
adjust with new research demands, what
makes the building interdisciplinary is how
it responds to the myriad of challenges we
know of today.
Charles S. Klee, AIA, LEED AP, is a Principal with Payette.