Building aesthetics propel scientific collaboration

Photos by Douglas Levere, BA ’89
Building aesthetics

The elegant architectural design of the New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences and the Roswell Park Cancer Institute (RPCI) Center for Genetics and Pharmacology was intended to break down typical departmental barriers to research and development. Planners also determined that aesthetics can serve as a potent tool for recruiting top scientists to Buffalo Niagara.

The two adjoined four- and five-story-high buildings of sparkling white aluminum and metal panels, red brick and glass are built on the south edge of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. They are the work of one of America’s leading laboratory design firms, Francis Cauffman Foley Hoffmann Architects.

“The facilities actually are two buildings in one,” explains Steve Lebowitz, director of design for Francis Cauffman. “The RPCI building occupies the east wing, while—on the other side of a gracious, landscaped U-shaped entrance—UB’s Center of Excellence occupies the west wing. While each entity will have its own research projects and some in common, the design team incorporated a generous dose of common spaces where people can come together informally as well as officially.”

The same elements that make the interior organization more collaborative also make the two buildings highly expressive, notes Glen Conley, project manager for Francis Cauffman. Researchers have private offices, and teams are grouped in “neighborhood” office clusters. Building amenities include a 150-seat lecture hall and a café.

“Science buildings must also optimize space for reasons of which the general public may not be aware,” Conley explains. “Because non-research functions are rarely funded, we consolidated functions and reduced costs because the labs are linked to each other—and to the private offices—by a remarkably efficient, dual-function circulation spine that also serves as equipment space.”

Like the scientific process itself, the building’s design emphasizes the concept of discovery. In the office portions, splayed and irregular long corridors turn into intriguing offshoots. “The interior layout symbolizes the process of problem-solving,” Lebowitz says.

Building aesthetics

In addition, these buildings have been designed to stringent environmental standards. Ample access to daylight is just one of the features that make the complex a candidate for a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Silver rating. This hard-won designation from the U.S. Green Building Council is rare for a lab, where energy costs run so high because of the computational components, which require vast amounts of power and extensive cooling systems. Instead, sustainable design features used for the buildings will improve overall energy efficiency by 30 percent, compared to the standard energy code requirements.

The fact that three buildings will be connected—an overhead bridge will eventually link the Center of Excellence with the Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute building—underscores the close collaboration that will occur among scientists as they work to develop and commercialize new drugs, therapies and biomedical devices.

“The beautiful new buildings and the combined talents of the three institutions are an amazing draw that is really quite unique,” says Bruce A. Holm, UB senior vice provost and executive director of the Center of Excellence. “When you combine that with the high quality of life in this region and the growing national awareness of what we are accomplishing here, you have a formula for success that has tremendous potential.”

Related Reading: Discovery Zone, When life and science meet