Stanley Beaman & Sears conceives a laboratory to foster creativity and inter-disciplinary exchange among researchers
In the Erma Byrd Biomedical Research Center (BMRC), West Virginia University sought an efficient, flexible laboratory environment to encourage collaboration and cross-disciplinary exchange among researchers and students, and a landmark building to attract prestigious investigators and projects. The resulting design manifests that commitment to open exchange through an architectural expression of the interplay, in scientific process, between rationality and creativity. This is accomplished by separating activities into distinct linear zones.
On each floor, open-bay labs are aligned along the western side; while adaptable to many modes of research, they are necessarily a rigid module. The eastern side, containing researchers’ offices with transparent interior walls, post-doctoral students’ open desk spaces, conference rooms and areas of informal circulation, accommodates the imaginative, free-associational aspect of scientific work. Between these is a layered axis consisting of a ghost corridor housing lab sinks; a file of alcoves for support activities and equipment; and a security wall finished on the office side with custom millwork and opaque blue art-glass 'windows', hinting at the differences and the flow between rational and romantic thought – a visual metaphor for intuition infiltrating the methodical work of research.
Coming from labs both less rational and less fostering of collaboration, university researchers asked for – and got – “translational space...where we’re translating our ideas for the first time – where others can first understand what it is we’re doing.” Against the restrained, rectilinear modernism of the campus’ existing brick buildings, the BMRC is a striking departure. Its machined but jagged glass and steel facade suggests the irregularly geometric minerals found beneath West Virginia’s mountain landscape, views of which it’s reflective curtain wall mirrors. Visible from a distance, it stands as a new gateway to the campus, and a symbol of the university’s expanding research mission.