A significant player in the life-sciences research industry since the late 1800s, the University of Missouri-Columbia (Mizzou) decided that a new Life Sciences Center (LSC) was necessary to bring faculty and students from several colleges together to find solutions for enhancing nutrition and health, improving agriculture, and preserving the environment.
These types of interdisciplinary partnerships are essential in today’s complex research projects, and Mizzou wanted the new facility to assist in the creation of a collaborative environment.
Best described as a new model for a non-departmental research facility within the campus setting, the Life Sciences Center houses research teams organized into eight “clusters” and features laboratories, lecture halls, conference/seminar rooms, an animal-care facility, greenhouses, offices, a 250-seat auditorium, and technical core facilities to support research.
Three types of spaces make up the Life Sciences Center: 1) formal spaces to host conferences, seminars, teachings, and large meetings; 2) task-oriented spaces to accommodate small- and medium-sized meetings; and 3) spontaneous spaces (lounges, cafés, terraces, and small and open meeting spaces) to host impromptu gatherings and spontaneous discussions. The interior materials used include stone, wood, terrazzo, and glass; furnishings and carpets provide bright accents of color to contrast with the neutral colors of the building’s architecture.
In line with its mission of fostering teamwork, every feature of the new facility is intended to promote research and communication, and to build a new culture of interaction, partnership, and innovation on Mizzou’s university grounds. The central sky-lit atrium serves as the chief unifying element and focal point of activity within the LSC. Offering furnished lounges, alcoves, balconies, and meeting spaces to promote spur-of-the-moment gatherings, researchers must pass through this space as they go between offices and laboratories. Common areas, informal interaction and work areas, a display lobby, and a reading room provide additional opportunities for the exchange of ideas. Marker boards (fixed and movable) are also provided, along with modular seating that can be arranged to support a variety of group-meeting sizes.
A new concept for many at Mizzou, even the research laboratories are open-plan spaces (with the exception of one that is closed for containment and security reasons). Not all faculty members were familiar (or comfortable) with an open-lab environment; but, after early skepticism and concern, the faculty members are now adjusting well to the design and have learned to appreciate this unique characteristic.
Since specific users and research initiatives had not been defined for the building at the time of construction, approximately 25 percent of the lab spaces were left with open, unfurnished interiors for future finishing and customization. To accommodate future flexibility, the labs were designed to be reconfigured as needed.
Since occupancy in 2004, Mizzou’s Life Sciences Center has become one of the most popular venues for meeting and social activity on campus. Existing faculty and new recruits are signing up to move into the building, the auditorium is hosting national meetings, the atrium is energetic and lively, the café is full of activity, and interaction spaces are constantly in use by both faculty and students.
JUDGES’ COMMENTS: “The architect was able to make this Life Sciences Center an inviting meeting place and science lab. The ‘floating staircase’ and balconies create an openness that makes the space vibrant and exciting. The fact that students utilize both the formal and informal meeting areas to meet and continue their studies attests to the success of this design.”