Weird Science

06/07/2004 |

From industrial setting into specialized government spaces

HONORABLE MENTION: Building 25, Denver Federal Center, Lakewood, CO

Cue thunder, eerie music, and – in a flash of lightning – the spooky laboratory is revealed. While Building 25 at the Denver Federal Center, Lakewood, CO, was never in a horror movie, it did present a host of scary challenges to its modernization.

Built in 1942, the 399,000-square-foot Remington Arms factory had witnessed six decades of ad hoc remodeling projects and a massive fire. After a $43 million renovation, this laboratory facility is now home to a group of government agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Office of Surface Mining and Mine Safety and Health Administration, and the General Services Administration (GSA).

During the war years of WWII, Building 25 was pressed into service producing munitions as part of the 90-building Denver Ordinance Plant, Denver’s largest industrial complex at that time. Three years later, the plant was decommissioned and converted into offices and labs as the Denver Federal Center.

USGS ran its National Mapping Center out of Building 25 from the 1950s to 1995. Over the years, the original light and airy factory was chopped into a cramped rabbit warren of meandering hallways. Lacking a central heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) system, only window and baseboard units provided makeshift heating and cooling. Original windows and single-pane, steel-frame curtainwall added to the building’s heating and cooling dilemmas.

Some window panes had been painted over, making the facility dark and gloomy. Adding to the grim atmosphere, the building stored leftover photo lab chemicals, rock-crushing equipment, acids and radio-logical materials, asbestos, and lead.

Denver-based OZ Architecture and the GSA collaborated with its design and engineering team and tenants to tailor Building 25 to the tenants’ specialized needs. Two-thirds of the building’s space is on the first floor and the structure lacked natural light. To bring in much-needed light to the office space, a pair of two-story atriums was added and the original clerestory windows were restored. Highly efficient transmissive insulated glass replaced the single-pane, steel-frame windows.

Building 25 now hosts five federal agencies with highly specialized spaces. For the Mine Safety and Health Administration, this tenant has offices and labs around the atrium. Previously housed in four separate buildings, the EPA’s National Enforcement Investigations Center is now consolidated with high-tech laboratories, field staging areas, offices, and information technology facilities in a very secure environment.

The Office of Surface Mining enjoys its updated image and high-quality workplace with large windows and mountain views. The exterior restoration carefully reclaimed the 1942 industrial modern aesthetic and complements the appearance of the other Denver Federal Center facilities.

New, prominent entrances aid in security control, while the café, patios, and lecture halls encourage a sense of community among the large building’s many tenants. Interior spaces, such as the atriums, are natural gathering places where experts in different disciplines can come together and converse and relax.

This building was specially modified for specific scientific instrumentation, including high-resolution mass spectrometers, nuclear magnetic resonance imaging equipment, scanning electron microscopes, X-ray fluorescence, or dispersive spectrometry. Sophisticated ventilation systems and specialized air filtration, as well as water and waste treatment technologies, were also installed in the facility.

Drafty and cold or stiflingly hot? Building 25 desperately needed to save energy and increase end-user comfort. This renovation installed highly efficient glazing, highly sophisticated analog and digital signal processing and controls for HVAC systems, and other energy-saving features.

Backup power is available to sustain requirements for instruments, reference standards, samples, and their controlled environments. In addition, the building was engineered with excess electrical capacity to anticipate future growth; additional controls protect against external power problems that could compromise data and sample integrity.

Security and safety were also primary concerns. Labs have superior ventilation with high-velocity stacks that protect against re-entrainment of exhaust into building air intakes. Special downdraft tables were fabricated and a liquid leak detection system was installed to minimize damage in the event of plumbing or roof failure.

The secure 670-acre Denver Federal Center – with 90 buildings and 4 million square feet of commercial space – is the largest concentration of federal employees outside of Washington, D.C. Building 25 has its own secure perimeter and security systems, the second highest under the Federal Protective Services, within this high-security campus. Visitors enter through an entrance counter; sensitive areas require access card admission; and separate entrances for the delivery of materials feature crash gates.

Building 25’s successful modernization is the result of thorough, careful consideration. Once disappointed in their dark and gloomy environment, employees now praise their well-designed, light-filled work environment. Instead of an ongoing sci-fi horror movie, this unique facility’s transformation is a happy ending.

Regina Raiford Babcock ( is senior editor at Buildings magazine.


Modernization Team at Building 25, Denver Federal Center    Architect (entry submitter): OZ Architecture     Owner:  General Services Administration    Construction Company: JE Dunn/BDI    Mechanical/Electrical Consultant: Swanson Rink Consulting Engineers    Structural Consultant: Martin/Martin    Landscape Architect: DHM Design    Lab Casework Company: ISEC Construction Services (Fisher Hamilton)    Lab Consulting Firm: RFD    Products Used    Blinds/Window Treatments: Levolor  • Building Automation: Siemens    Ceilings: BPB America; Celotex; Chicago Metallic    Doors/Storefronts: EFCO; GRAHAM    Elevators/Escalators: Schindler    Floorcoverings: Azrock; Fritztile; Mannington Commercial; Milliken    Furniture: Fisher Hamilton    Hardware: Best; LCN; Von Duprin    HVAC: Baltimore Aircoil; Trane    Insulation: Owens Corning    Life Safety/Security: Aiphone; Altronix; Panasonic; Sentrol; Siemens     Lighting: Lithonia; Louis Poulsen; Prudential Lighting    Paint: Duroplex; Pittsburgh Paints; Scuffmaster    Roofing: Johns Manville    Walls/Partitions: American Gypsum Wallboard; Dietrich    Windows/Glass: EFCO    Other: Cadillac Plastics; Kalwall                                  

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