By Clara M.W. Vangen
It’s an exciting era for science with the explosion of information brought about by genomic research. Bayer Corp.’s commitment to breaking through the bottleneck in its research includes the recent renovation of the High Technology Center (HTC) that supports Bayer’s genome platform-based science.
Located amidst the rolling hillside of Bayer’s West Haven, CT campus, the 15,000-square-foot building, formerly known as B36 and used as a manufacturing facility for the company, appears today as an attractive, modern, high-tech laboratory. Although the precast concrete outer shell of the building, the foundation, and the roof assemblies were preserved, the HTC’s exterior was reclad and expanded for a much more interesting and functional exterior.
On the inside, changes that needed to be made were much more than cosmetic as the engineering and design team quickly realized that fitting a “dance floor-style” open lab into a disordered structural grid would present a few structural challenges. A new braced frame was installed on the west end of the building and a couple of moment frames were added as support around the office core. Existing precast panels tied together provided a necessary shear wall. The removal and replacement of the existing slab, together with the removal of selected columns and installation of transfer beams, made the lab structurally more flexible.
Focusing on Bayer’s definitive goal of an open, state-of-the-art lab, coupled with its need for a lab layout responsive to efficient workflow and interaction across lab disciplines, Kathryn Tyson, project manager at Madison, WI-based Flad & Associates, went to work on designing the lab’s interior space. “We were fortunate that Bayer was so precise about what its specific needs and goals were for the lab space,” says Tyson. “[The Bayer team] knew the direction that they wanted to head on this project and were committed to making it happen.
“They had three primary goals. First, was to have a fully functioning open lab. Second, was to improve communication and workflow. Lastly, was to make the space safely available for tours – understanding the importance of allowing shareholders and outside investors to see the lab first-hand.”
A Changing Environment
A clerestory wall of glass wraps around the northwest corner of the lab and bathes the interior space with daylight and a sense of openness. A red granite wall marks the entry and visually ties the HTC to other lab buildings on campus. Inside, a large transparent wall acts as both a physical separation to the laboratory and a focal tie-in to the entry sequence and adjacent office space.
“We started our discussions with basically how we wanted to do it open book,” explains Paul Planz, manager of project engineering at Bayer, Westhaven, CT. “We didn’t want to go in and build traditional biology labs because our experience has been that science is changing rapidly. We had seen equipment coming in, being used for a few months, and then [moving] on to a new piece of equipment and a discovery method.”
In keeping with the open space, the design team soon realized that they had to move all of the permanent and fixed equipment to the outermost edges of the building. “All of the refrigerators, dishwashers, and lab sinks, all of the hardcore lab equipment were moved to the outer perimeter of the edge of the proposed building,” notes Planz.
In line with Bayer’s desire for an open lab, all equipment, from worksurfaces and storage carts to utility and lab equipment, is movable and easy to relocate. Turrets – square columns that drop down from the ceiling – deliver all of the piping and electrical systems to movable carts and worksurfaces. Each lab cart is equipped with its own compressed air, nitrogen, and electrical circuits (two for every two feet of cart space).
Value-Added Users’ Perspective
Bayer brought together a core group of six scientists to help determine what their cart and bench needs would be. Worksurfaces or benches are available in six-, five-, four-, and three-foot lengths. Movable carts hold a changing variety of necessary laboratory supplies and equipment. Scientists can even set up the equipment as they receive it off the loading dock – organized by preference and wheeled directly into the lab. This flexibility ensures carts can be pulled out and replaced quickly and easily without reconfiguring the entire lab.
“From an engineering perspective, it is great because you don’t have a lot of maintenance personnel supporting the building, changing out the workstations, carts, utilities, and such every time you need to reconfigure the space. The scientists do it all themselves. Every time I go there, the space has been reconfigured and no one from engineering has had to go in and help them,” says Planz. “They know what they want to do and don’t have to rely on a lot of support people to do it for them.”
Closed, private offices for lab supervisors line the perimeter of the facility. Office workstations for associates are located between these offices and the laboratory. Location was carefully thought out to create work areas that promote informal interaction among research staff – improving the creative process. A conference room provides additional collaboration space.
Planz and Tyson both agree that the support and understanding of Bayer’s upper management was paramount to the success of this project. “Their commitment to this project allowed us to fast- track the renovation process and successfully create a totally flexible laboratory.”
The results speak for themselves.
Clara M.W. Vangen (firstname.lastname@example.org) is technologies editor at Buildings magazine.