Now in its 51st year, the Laboratory of the Year Awards continue to recognize excellence in research laboratory design, planning and construction. This annual international competition receives entries from the best new and renovated laboratories. Eligible projects represent a wide variety of laboratory types, including research, quality assurance/control, teaching, software development, environmental, clinical, forensic, and testing and standards.

Judging for this year’s competition took place on March 28 and was conducted by a blue-ribbon panel of laboratory architects, engineers, equipment manufacturers, researchers and the editorial staff of R&D Magazine and Laboratory Design. The project teams were honored during the Laboratory Design Conference, held April 24-26, 2017, at the Raleigh Marriott Crabtree Valley in Raleigh, N.C. Five awards were presented at the 2017 Laboratory Design Conference.

The Special Recognition for Collaborative Learning Environment award was presented to the Enzi Educational Facility [STEM] in Laramie, Wyo., submitted by Anderson Mason Dale Architects of Denver, Colo. 

View from Future North Quad. Image: Frank Ooms

When the state of Wyoming announced that it would fund a science facility at the University of Wyoming, the university decided that the building’s focus should be on first and second year STEM lab courses. The intention was to make the facility into a “gateway” for the school’s young science majors, and entice them to stay the course and continue studying science as an upper-division specialization. As a bonus, the relocated lab courses would free up space in existing buildings to augment higher-level courses and also offer expanded research space.

The Enzi Educational Facility received the Special Recognition for Collaborative Learning Environment award—the Laboratory of the Year judges noted the building’s openness and transparency, as well as its conceptual exterior and the relation to the surrounding area.

“We were lucky to have a very involved steering committee, consisting primarily of the staff, faculty and student representatives who would ultimately be living in the building,” said Project Manager Erin Hillhouse, AIA, of Anderson Mason Dale Architects. “From literally the first meeting with this group, they were clear that the project must celebrate science. Working with Jeanne Narum of Learning Spaces Collaboratory, we facilitated student focus discussions to learn the student’s perspective.”

Hillhouse added, “The two main ways in which the building celebrates science are by maximizing transparency between labs, computational areas and collaboration areas and by allowing students to work in the free-flowing, collaborative manner of professional scientists. Both of these ideas came out of workshops with our steering committee.”

Physics STEM Suite. Image: Frank Ooms

The heart of the Enzi facility is referred to as the “hearth,” a multi-story gathering space that connects departments which reside on different floors. The gathering space is used for student study areas, and glass marker boards are available for group projects. The furniture can be rearranged to allow for guest speakers or the University’s annual outreach science fair each summer. 

A set of spaces forming one side of the central gathering space “addresses a new paradigm for higher education science learning,” according to the project’s Laboratory of the Year submission. In that STEM suite, science laboratories, computer labs and student work/meeting areas are arranged in groups, and moveable glass walls are used to connect them. The free-flow of work between laboratories, computational spaces and meeting areas carefully means that students can work in the way that professional scientists do.

“One of the project challenges was working with disparate departments, rather than designing a building for one entity. Each of the departments had specific needs and initially were very focused on their immediate facility needs,” said Architect of Record Sallie Means, AIA, of By Architectural Means, which collaborated on the Enzi facility with Anderson Mason Dale Architects. “By using a collaborative workshop project approach, the planning team members were exposed to other department needs and issues. Developing a holistic view of the new facility, they became strong advocates of maximizing the student interaction spaces, as long as their primary needs were met. Integrating computational labs within science lab areas worked to endorse the initial STEM vision. It seems like the concept of the atrium as a central gathering space for all with individual floors for Physics, Life Sciences and Chemistry was an effective way of giving each of the primary departments an identity in the building while having those identities subservient to the bigger idea of a ‘mixing chamber’ for science.”

General Chemistry Prep Room Diagram. Image: Research Facilities Design

Energy usage is the Enzi facility’s primary sustainability challenge, mainly because of the mechanical exhaust requirements necessary to uphold a suitable working laboratory environment. The building aims to achieve energy savings amounting to 25 percent below the ASHRAE 90.1 2007 baseline established by LEED 2009. The project is targeting LEED Silver certification under LEED 2009 criteria.

Another huge concern for the facility was lab safety, “particularly in the organic and general chemistry labs,” noted Hillhouse. “In those laboratories, the new facility offers a number of upgrades from the previous facility:  select benches are equipped with vented backdraft exhaust, fume hoods allow students to work safely with volatile chemicals, and view windows between spaces allow lab coordinators to help each other in monitoring student’s safe laboratory practices. But upgrades in the quality of space were also important to the UW steering committee and end users. The previous facility had the feeling of a multi-story basement with concrete masonry unit walls, little daylight and no sense of what was going on behind lab walls. As a showcase for science, the users wanted the excitement of science to be intuitive for visitors to Enzi.”