In their 49th year, the Laboratory of the Year Awards continue to recognize excellence in research lab design, planning and construction. Judging for 2015’s competition took place on Thursday, February 19th, and was conducted by a blue-ribbon panel of lab architects, engineers, equipment manufacturers, researchers and the editors of R&D Magazine and Laboratory Design Newsletter.

This annual international competition receives entries from the best new and renovated labs. Eligible projects represent a wide variety of lab types: research, quality assurance/control, teaching, software development, environmental, clinical, energy, forensic and testing and standards. Below highlights the three winners in this year’s competition.

2015 Laboratory of the Year: The South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI), Adelaide, Australia


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Southwest night exterior view of the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI). Image: David Sievers  


The South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) is a world-class research facility with architecture by Woods Bagot. It includes an innovative façade design, providing approximately 25,000 sm of space in an iconic and sculptural form in the heart of South Australia’s new medical and health precinct west of Adelaide.

Key to the SAHMRI’s success is a new and liberating lab typology that promotes collaboration and medical discovery, designed to attract the best researchers from around the world. The facility provides fully flexible lab spaces to a level two containment standard, consisting of both wet and dry lab spaces including a vivarium, a cyclotron, open public spaces and commercial opportunities at the plaza level.

The SAHMRI builds on the quality of the surrounding community and reinforces the new medical and health precinct. A state-of-the-art facility that’s significant and timeless in its urban context, SAHMRI provides a resource to both the public and researchers that seamlessly interacts with its surroundings, showcasing sustainable urban planning strategies and successful interaction with Adelaide’s public transport, cycling and walking networks. A unique characteristic of the design is the notion of the “building in a parkland”.

The design draws its identity from the characteristics and context of the site, acknowledging the existing natural surroundings, solar orientation, prevailing winds, views and parkland context. The as-built form of SAHMRI acknowledges its sense of place within the Adelaide Parklands, its position within the community and its link with the new hospital precinct, including an appropriate response to architectural detailing, articulation, modulation and material selection. The integration of the building with the landscape results in a variety of public and private open spaces which promote a flexible and healthy environment responding to the needs of staff, clinicians and the community.

SAHMRI’s integrated design approach creates a seamless transition from external to internal. The façade uses a parametric tool which integrates the various environmental, programmatic and formal requirements to generate a shading system that changes accordingly. This applies the process of science informing design outcomes. The façade framing system creates a sinuous triangular structure, glazing elements and shading devices that vary in their projection based on their solar orientation.

SAHMRI’s nine research modules house up to 675 researchers from Australia and beyond, fostering innovation and improvements in community health services.

Project Team: South Australian Government/South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute, Adelaide, South Australia (project owner); Woods Bagot, Adelaide, South Australia (lead architect/interior designer); Research Facilities Design, San Diego, Calif. (lab planner); Aurecon, Adelaide, South Australia (electrical/communication/fire/structural/civil/wind/façade engineer); Cundall, Adelaide, South Australia (environmental consultant); Dagard Clean Rooms/Total Precision Contracting, Mortdale, New South Wales (lab cleanrooms); Norman Disney & Young, Adelaide, South Australia (mechanical/hydraulic/acoustic engineer); Wunda Projects, Edwardstown, South Australia (lab casework); Aktivlab Pty Ltd/G3Lab, Richmond, South Australia (lab storage cabinets); Oxigen, Adelaide, South Australia (landscape architect); Tecniplast Australia Pty Ltd, Lane Cove, New South Wales (lab/vivarium equipment); Dortek, East Yorkshire, England (vivarium doors); John Hindmarsh SA, Adelaide, South Australia (CM); Laboratory Systems Group/Southern Cross Science, Kilsyth, Australia (lab fume hoods); Getinge Australia, Edwardstown, South Australia (lab/vivarium equipment); and Forbo Flooring Systems, Weherill Park, New South Wales (lab flooring).

2015 Laboratory of the Year High Honors: The Smithsonian Environmental Research Center's Charles McC. Mathias Lab


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Image of the reconstructed “wet meadow” above geothermal field on the exterior of the Charles McC. Mathias Laboratory. Image: Ron Blunt  


On September 19, 2014, the Smithsonian Institution opened the doors of its greenest building to date: The Charles McC. Mathias Laboratory on the campus of the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) in Edgewater, Md. Designed to be the first LEED-Platinum building for the institution, the Mathias Lab demonstrates a renewed commitment by the Smithsonian and the U.S. Congress to invest in crucial environmental research. The project is a cornerstone of sustainable development outlined in the master plan for SERC’s 2,650-acre site, located on the shoreline of the Rhode River and Chesapeake Bay.

The SERC site serves as a natural lab for intensive long-term research by scientists on a variety of interconnected ecosystems. In support of its mission, the campus is comprised of several facilities including research labs, educational and exhibition pavilions, offices and dormitories for visiting scientists. In the past, much of SERC’s world-class research was conducted in substandard facilities and temporary trailers that had become de facto lab space. The goal of this project was to eliminate the trailers, convert the existing labs to office and education space and provide new state-of-the-art labs to serve the next generation of environmental scientists. Also included are various site improvements ranging from roadway and utility realignment, expansion of central plant and systems infrastructure and a campus-wide approach to improved water conservation.

The project is an opportunity to reflect SERC’s mission of environmental stewardship in the quality of their core research facilities. In addition to reorganizing the overall flow of operations and consolidating the on-site research community into one place, the building also serves as an educational tool and demonstration space for local schools, visiting scientists and partnering institutions. Functionally, the building includes: chemistry labs, biology labs, specialized lab support, equipment rooms, environmental chambers, specimen storage, an electronics shop, offices and conference rooms, a central atrium, a research library and café, restrooms and locker rooms, a security suite, loading docks, glasswash and autoclave suites, field prep and equipment storage and a central utility plant.

Project Team: Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, Edgewater, Md. (owner); EwingCole, Philadelphia (architect/lab planner/interior designer/MEP engineer); Woods Peacock, Engineering Consultant, Alexandria, Va. (structural engineer); Alpha Corp., Dulles, Va. (civil engineer); Poole Design LLC, Baltimore, Md. (landscape architect); Hensel Phelps Construction Group, Chantilly, Va. (GC); Cornerstone Commissioning, Boxford, Mass. (commissioning agent); Atelier Ten Environmental Design Consultants, New York, N.Y. (environmental consultant).

2015 Laboratory of the Year Special Mention: The Pirbright Institute's Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) National Virology Centre: The Plowright Building


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The south elevation of the Plowright Building identifies the labs—clad in timber—the “people” spaces—clad in glass—and the mechanical systems in a metal penthouse. The unexpected choice of wood cladding, and the colorful window surrounds, humanize the image of the facility. Image: Dan Schwalm/HDR Inc.  


Home to three international reference labs for 10 exotic viral diseases of livestock, The Pirbright Institute focuses on virology, and, specifically, on animal health including zoonotic diseases. The impact of the science is global—affecting animal health and economic prosperity worldwide. The Plowright Building, housing the BBSRC National Virology Centre, is a Category 4 containment facility—the equivalent to BSL-3 enhanced in the U.S.—designed to assure that no virus can get out, and to prevent cross-contamination within the facility itself.

Achieving the vision began with a detailed risk assessment, which included ranking potential risk and the severity of those risks. Rather than treat the entire facility for the worst-case scenario, The Plowright Building was designed to address risk with progressively more stringent controls—in the built environment, engineering, technologies and protocols—to mirror actual risks.

Delivering this first-of-its-kind facility required that the team—which consisted of HDR Architecture, Shepard and AECOM—put egos aside and base all decisions on what was best for the project and for the science. The strength of this collaborative work culture was reinforced by branding the team “Team Pirbright” and by co-locating team members, including decision-makers from Pirbright, on-site. Everyone on the project team entered into the challenge with a mindset of getting it done right, on time and on budget.

To do this, the team took the conventional box-inside-a-box design for containment and pulled it inside-out. Instead of the virus—or the labs—buried in the center, the team put people at the center. The new model includes a central light-filled atrium, with zones within containment surrounding it. The curtain wall of the atrium defines a containment boundary that is sealed. The radical plan draws researchers out of their individual lab wings and “into the light”. It also allows for the generous use of glass in and around the atrium, with views to the campus to the north and of the forest—the Green Belt—to the south. The plan provides many opportunities for scientists to work together and share knowledge, and aligns with the worldwide trend towards multidisciplinary collaborative science.

Project Team: Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), Pirbright, Surrey, England, U.K. (owner); HDR Architecture, London, England (architect); HDR Architecture, Atlanta (lab planner/containment architect); HDR Architecture, Lawrenceville, N.J. (landscape architecture); AECOM Engineering, St. Albans (MEP/structural/ civil engineer and environmental/acoustical consultant); Shepard Construction, London (GC); AECOM Project Management, Oxford (project management); Turner and Townsend, London (cost consultants); Merrick & Co., Kanata, Ontario, Canada (commissioning agent); S&B UK Ltd, Swinton, Manchester (lab furniture); Walker Safety Cabinets, Glossop, Derbyshire (microbiological safety cabinets); PBSC, Huddersfield, West Yorkshire (containment barrier equipment).

Lindsay Hock is editor of R&D Magazine and Laboratory Design Newsletter.