The university’s space needs prompted the programming for University of Texas at San Antonio’s Biotechnology Science and Engineering Building I (BSEB). The BSEB education model—driven by interaction among the researchers and grad students, collaborative “chance” meetings space between researchers, and leading edge technologies—paved its vision. Meeting these demands, working with a diverse faculty and research community, and building opportunities for collaboration among faculty, students and the community became the architect’s challenge.
Interactive spaces and top tier laboratory environs make up the majority of spaces within the BSEB. BSEB was programmed to provide much needed facilities that support UTSA’s pursuit toward “Tier 1” research status, while also supporting the university’s quest for a leadership role in the fields of Bioengineering, Biotechnology, and Chemistry. This education and research mission require transmitting the excellence of the teaching and science spaces in this 220,000 sf facility toward fostering interdisciplinary research and collaboration among various sciences and engineering programs. The BSEB design facilitates the desirable collaboration as it houses approximately 150,000 SF of research and teaching laboratories for life sciences, research laboratory spaces for chemistry and for civil and electrical engineering, a vivarium, and offices for faculty, graduate students, department heads, and deans.
A team charter advanced this time-sensitive planning process. The charter established specific project goals: 1) address the expanding space needs; 2) provide flexibility; 3) enhance formal and informal interaction between faculty, students, and the community; 4) support the growing bio-technology and bio-engineering activities of South Texas.
Under this charter, collaborative work sessions were designed to engage administration, faculty, students, and building owners in defining the space needs the site and budget could accommodate. The architects facilitated all working sessions, with support from experts in lab planning, engineering, and interior space design. All participants stretched any limitations around collaborative thinking and identified the ensuing operations. In this process, they discovered innovative concepts in extending the campus Paseo system for example; or, repositioning transfer labs to remain in existing facilities while accommodating a much needed vivarium space. Collaboration in the process allowed, for example, scientists and administration to agree on replacing a couple of teaching labs identified in the program with specific interaction spaces like conference rooms, break rooms, etc. The process upheld the team commitment to an interactive, state-of-the-art teaching and discovery environment.
Challenges and Solutions
The architects’ and engineers’ works reflect the resolution of a number of challenges on a leading edge building such as the BSEB. Some of those challenges and their approved resolutions included:
Research programs alienated by focus, funding or floors often challenge the discovery process in the new model of scientific research. The architect can facilitate a greater alliance between programs as he/she addresses the “floors” issue by giving the facility a form to facilitate interaction. BSEB’s design gives form at a number of levels, from establishing a galleria for people gathering, and interconnecting stairways that invite use, to a break-away conference room system driven by the need for collaboration and privacy.
Access to leadership and interaction between scientists influenced the decision to place the deans’ office environments in a common suite. The “public” nature of the suites engages all of the building’s users and invites visits from faculty, students, administration and supporters alike.
Communications was critical in this environment of teaching and discovery. Departmental display opportunities at all points of interaction were designed into the space.
The passage of time and day lighting are as important factors for laboratory faculty and personnel as for their experiments. So in addition to creating human scaled and enlightened space, the natural light system and controlled light system had to be balanced to meet the research programs’ needs while supporting the humanistic side.
Creating a laboratory environment that responds to the UTSA’s vision to become the “model for the new comprehensive university” offered designers a unique opportunity to balance vision and function in a form that supports the evolving culture. Significant components in UTSA’s strategic vision call for initiatives that allow UTSA to “seek out and promote university linkages within the City of San Antonio and region…” and to place students and faculty of Biotechnology and Bioengineering ”…at the forefront of local and regional economic development…”
This vision drove the openness of the BSEB, inviting campus students and faculty to access the facility. This direction also charged the designers with creating a statement that informs the public of the work housed here. Unique displays and exciting public art to promote the sciences and engineering disciplines which are placed at the entrance and in primary circulation spaces tend to draw the public into the building. Innovative design tensions support the creative nature of the scientific discovery circulating in this building. Although the laboratory environments are tightly secured, the public spaces create a beautiful transparency that opens sciences to the arts on this South Side of the main campus.
Unlike the cloistered laboratory buildings of old, the new BSEB is a transparent—yet secure—new gateway to the South Side of the campus. Its Bistro environment is intended to draw students and faculty from throughout the campus to the science and engineering complex. Availing themselves of the opportunities in this much needed space, the client and the architect developed further uses for this area. When combined with the atrium for example, the Bistro offers pre-function and function space, to host large events for fund raising and grant or research related programs. This level of flexibility extended the client’s budget to incorporate more programmatic functions without adding square footage.
Similar concern for budget and site constraints focused the design on the core elements of the building, the laboratories are the core spaces in the building. The designers established a standard module for the labs that offers flexible lab configurations for future programs or grants. The 30’ x 50’ module can be divided as needed by specific programs. The typical lab calls for a 30’ x 30’ module with a center entrance corridor, flanked by support modules. Engineering labs on the ground level are atypical in response to programmatic demands.
As UTSA builds the campus’ reputation for excellence in education, it is important to respect the integrity of its strategic master plan. Responding to this plan, the architect’s siting of this significant building was done in anticipation of future construction that will complete the science and engineering complex.
One appealing challenge of the selected site is its slope. This sloping afforded the architect opportunities to create innovative solutions in developing access and egress systems for the building. Some of the solution elements included: entries on three levels to connect to public access and service on level one, public access from main Paseo on level two and upper Paseo on level three. In addition, a fourth level bridge was constructed to connect to the existing Biosciences building, providing protected access for researchers while physically linking the programs and the vivarium.
Linkages and access were core considerations of the plan: Paseos form the pedestrian circulation pattern for the campus and offer many spatial opportunities for interactive space, quiet study, and informal conversation. The extension of the upper level Paseo, between existing Science and Engineering buildings, and the inviting dining patio and arcade front the south Paseo connect the stream of students and faculty traveling between the buildings of the Science and Engineering complex as well as the liberal arts buildings.
The integrity of the campus is built around many factors and programs. The building program specifically, outlines guidelines for all new campus buildings’ materials palette. Using this specified palette, the architect balanced his choice of the materials so to assure that the design of this state-of-the-art building would be compatible with architectural style and character of the campus. Exterior materials of limestone, stucco, and sloped clay tile roofs were selected from the palette. These scalable building standard materials allowed the designer to modulate the facades to keep the five-story building in scale with its three-story neighbors. Creative application of such materials and colors that are consistent with campus guidelines, and repetitive elements in the building form(s) like arched openings, modular windows, arcades and a galleria atrium, further excite the design context planned for all future campus development.
Safety and Environmental Considerations
The safety features of each laboratory meet OSHA and/or ANSI requirements for configuration, operation and location. Safety stations, fire extinguishers, emergency communications, signage, ADA standards on all equipment and access/egress were diligently engaged at each step of the design process. This allowed the design team to remain creative to the users’ safety and concerns. With the assistance of a life safety consultant, for example, who ran computer-generated fire and smoke simulations on their behalf, the architects and engineers designed an open atrium that could close off at corridor intersections with the use of fire alarm-activated operable door closures and evacuate smoke at the proper velocity through the use of special fans and louvers.