Rochester Business Journal | New research building designed for interaction

New research building designed for interaction

Thomas Adams, April 2011 Download PDF

The new Saunders Research Building at the University of Rochester Medical Center opens today.

The first of 600 scientists, statisticians, research administrators and support staff members begin moving into the facility next week. The final touches for the $60 million building included painting walls, placing furniture, polishing floors and landscaping.

"We'll move people in before the landscaping is done," Mary Ockenden, the medical center's associate vice president for space planning, said last month. "They're finishing details on carpeting and floors. Structurally, the building is intact. Doors are in, windows have long been on. Air conditioning and heating is working."

The 22-month project is the culmination of a process that began some 15 years ago.
Funding of $25 million from the New York State Dormitory Authority and $25 million from Empire State Development Corp. supported the project.

"We had very competitive pricing on this building. It started before the financial crisis and continued through it," Ockenden said. "We got a real big bang for our buck."

Ground was broken on Oct. 27, 2008, two weeks after the economic meltdown, which delayed but did not derail construction of the building.

"It slowed it down," Ockenden said. "We actually would've started the project earlier.

"The crisis hit in the fall of 2008. In the spring of 2008, we were in full bore with starting the design. We paused for a bit and wanted to make sure everything was going to be stable with our funding resources. Then we picked up in 2009 and started running."

Mark Chen, a New York City architect who designed several buildings on the college campus, served as consulting architect to make sure the latest building fit with other designs.

LeChase Construction Services LLC was the construction manager.

"The new building is a part of a continuing expansion of research facilities at the URMC campus," Chen said. "Given its location on the west end of campus with the newer research buildings, it is important that the building speak to the campus as a whole and share similarities in materials, expression and fenestration."

Each building maintains its own unique quality, Chen added. The Saunders Research Building is connected to the School of Nursing's Helen Wood Hall, with the buildings sharing an atrium.

"In this way, the (Saunders building) is unique in form, a sort of fractured bar," he said. "The building aligns with the School of Nursing but is folded back to create a welcoming entry drop-off and lobby. This fold pushes the building mass to the south at an angle, creating interesting planning geometries.

"Rather than the sea of offices and workstations found in many of these kinds of buildings, the fold provides for interesting alcoves and intersections for interaction, and it is in this sense that the (Saunders building) shares a similar pedigree to the Kornberg and Del Monte research" buildings.

The university has been a leader in clinical and translational research for generations, Ockenden said, bringing discoveries from basic science laboratories into the community and the population at large.

"In the mid-1990s, our strategic plan put the first focus on a basic science lab, a wet-bench laboratory," she said. "We built a couple of buildings between 1997 and 2001 for basic scientists. Those buildings drew focus and attention to that science and upgraded the facilities that had really worn out from the previous 50 years of development."

The buildings bolstered the university's research funding base, allowing scientists to pursue more grants, Ockenden said.

Although talk of a clinical research building began in the previous decade, it did not become a priority until 2006, after the School of Medicine and Dentistry was among 12 medical schools nationwide awarded $40 million over five years from the National Institutes of Health for a research center.

"Getting $40 million to support the people that do this research was a catalyst to then say we really need a home base for these people," Ockenden said. "They were scattered across the campus in varying levels of age of facilities. They weren't in areas where they could really collaborate and communicate with each other.

"We know, as a matter of fact, that scientists thrive when they can interact with each other. New ideas come out, and more grants and more solutions come out when you bring people together."

At about that time, Thomas Pearson M.D. was appointed as the first senior associate dean for clinical research at the medical center. That, along with the funding, led to designing the building to house the Clinical and Translational Science Institute and other research programs.

"We called on some of our lead clinical researchers to brainstorm on who might occupy a building, what the best synergies are and what kind of people did everybody need to be in this building," Ockenden said.

"The answer was no, everybody doesn't have to be in the building, but having a home base, a headquarters, where you could coalesce certain services and groups at teaching programs made a lot of sense."

The result is a 200,000-square-foot building with four floors. It is the first of its kind in the country, medical center representatives said.

"We have 25 people who defined the concept," Ockenden said. "We want space that will be more open, less cloistered away in walled offices. We want more day-light in the building. We actually knew very early on that we wanted this to be a sustainable building."

Project managers are striving for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification. The building will be the first on campus to be LEED-certified, officials said.

They have implemented a "daylight-harvesting" system in which artificial lighting is reduced when natural light is available. They are using few or no volatile organic compounds, either man-made or naturally occurring, and are using replenishable hardwoods and low-flow water fixtures.

"You think we don't get too much sun in Rochester, but we get enough daylight to cause the system to modulate the level of artificial lighting in the building," Ockenden said. "That saves energy."

The parking lot will have porous pavement rather than being sealed.

"It's engineered underground with gravel and layers of substrates so rainwater can naturally go through the pavement and be purified and cleaned," she said. "Then it flows naturally back into the ground so it doesn't overload the storm sewer system."

The facility points the way to additional building growth, Chen said.

"The new building also represents the first step in potential campus expansion southwards," he said. "As such, the building's entry is designed as a portal, a cast stone frame at the entry that connects the main campus to the parking to the south and eventually new space for the medical center."

4/8/11 (c) 2011 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or e-mail

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