Interiors Awards 2015: Education

Photography by Nick Merrick/Hedrich Blessing and Eckert & Eckert

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UCSD Biomedical Research Facility Unit 2
Designer: ZGF Architects
Client: University of California, San Diego
Location: La Jolla, California

“Beautifully daylit, the interiors and material palette are well integrated with the architecture overall. Biomedical projects are very complex—the building shows architectural restraint with a welcome timelessness.” -Jury

With considerable growth in biomedical research activities, researchers at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) had been spread among a few outdated, inadequate structures on campus. The school needed a new research center to accommodate the increasing demand for laboratories under one roof, and to attract the top researchers from around the world. The UCSD Health Sciences Biomedical Research Facility 2, programmed and designed by ZGF, positions the university as a leading research institution. A striking addition to UCSD, it anchors and defines a campus green, houses state-of-the-art laboratories, and is one of the rare laboratory buildings in the U.S. that is expected to achieve LEED Platinum. That’s no small feat.

Located amidst existing buildings all related to health sciences, the building’s primary entrance faces west on a north-south axis toward a newly defined academic lawn and across from a pharmaceutical sciences building that it is connected to underground. The biomedical research facility is home to researchers in bioinformatics, gastrointestinal medicine, childhood diseases, pathology, immunology, infectious diseases, psychiatry, and cardiology, among other areas of medical research. Programmed spaces include wet bench laboratories, computational space, laboratory support, offices, and conference rooms.

“The building was initially conceived from the inside out,” says Joe Collins, FAIA, a partner at ZGF. The 196,000-square-foot building is composed of three distinct components: a five-story laboratory block, a seven-story office wing, and an open central core that is the hub for vertical circulation. Adjacent to the entrance, a floor-to-ceiling window wall allows light to fill the central core. With a monumental stair next to a glass-enclosed elevator, the core is surrounded on every level by open walkways and sitting areas adjacent to conference rooms. A vital component of the building, this unifying central space is the focal point of activity, gives researchers of various fields places to meet or casually interact, and architecturally allows daylight to reach many spaces.

“The most important programming aspect was the quality of the interior space in which there had to be a democratic attitude about natural light for all occupants, physical transparency, and thoughtfully designed spaces for personal and professional interaction at multiple scales,” Collins says. A variety of gathering areas include benches at circulation nodes, as well as perimeter lounges with flat screens and whiteboards.

Taking advantage of the southern California climate, a strong connection is made physically and visually between indoors and outdoors. A large outdoor terrace on the second floor also provides shade over the main entrance, and another outdoor terrace is accessed from the fourth floor. The warm, tactile interiors have primarily three types of wood: chestnut flooring in the building’s core, rift-sawn white oak used for wall panels and lab cabinets, and ipe on handrails and exterior decking. Sliding wood louver sunscreens on balconies help to filter the California sun.

A highly integrated system of solar shading, with computer-controlled retractable exterior blinds, is a key element of the building. Adjacent to the laboratories, dynamic exterior shading reduces cooling load and energy use by keeping lab space at the optimal ventilation rate for safety. The labs are designed to be highly efficient and well integrated with mechanical systems. “Labs had to be secure, flexible, and easily reconfigurable,” Collins says. “And central lab support spaces had to be easily accessible by multiple research groups.”

UCSD researchers have expressed their admiration to ZGF and Collins, and that means the world to the architect. “One of the biggest thrills for me as an architect is to have the researchers gush about how much they and their teams love working in the building; how much they look forward to coming to work,” Collins says. “And, of course, it’s exciting to imagine that the next great medical discovery or Nobel Prize might spring from the research conducted there.”

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