Vinoly design creates "counterpoint between technology and nature"
Seizing an opportunity for institutional expansion in 2001, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) initiated a competition for master planning solutions to create a state-of-the-art research campus—including laboratories, a conference center and hotel facility, and an on-site housing provision—intended to foster cross-disciplinary collaboration in order to advance medical science. Rafael Viñoly Architects’ solution delivered an environmentally and technologically conscious collection of buildings, all integrated within a pastoral setting.
HHMI’s Janelia Farm Research Campus sits on 689 acres bounded by forest on two sides, with a sloping hillside and generous views of the Potomac River and the verdant Maryland fields beyond. Out of this tranquil panorama, the 1,000-foot-long centerpiece “Landscape Building”—named in reference to its near-concealment in the terrain—emerges from the topography in a series of three descending planted terraces. Conference housing and residential village areas lie to its northeast.
What the Landscape Building conceals from above, it reveals from below. Beneath an 180,000-square-foot green roof—the second-largest in the United States—and sown with indigenous vegetation, the undulating building’s levels contain communal spaces, labs, meeting rooms, offices, and support areas. The interior retains sightlines of the exterior plain and benefits from ample daylight exposure, despite lying partially under ground.
The building’s curving plan lends variety to its longitudinal distribution: mechanical rooms, service corridors, support spaces, and lab benches run parallel in an extrusion punctuated by alternating office/conference room clusters and open terraces. The office cluster-open terrace rhythm promotes collegial interaction, furthering one of HHMI’s stated aims.
The lab achieves a new level of flexibility: without professional aid, one can reconfigure, completely remove, or replace existing elements with new ones. A floor grid encases data, electrical, and gas systems, supplying interchangeable connections among furnishings and lab benches.
The labs and conference center share a common courtyard with conference housing. Visitors stay in the ninety-six-room hotel, enjoying lake views; a residential village lodges researchers and their families in comfortable living accommodations.
"At Janelia Farm," says Rafael Vinoly, "the landscape is the building: it creates a counterpoint between technology and nature that enriches the research performed there. It is a highly technical structure in terms of equipment and flexibility, and yet the entire composition looks like a natural thing."