Volume 23, Issue 3- May/June 2009

Breaking Down Barriers

Glazing Helps Create an Open, Inviting Research Facility
by Ellen Rogers

If a structure’s design can truly affect the work performance of the building’s occupants, then the world can likely expect great things to come from the researchers working in the Helen Diller Cancer Research Building, which opened June 2 and is located in San Francisco’s Mission Bay district. The research campus, which features extensive use of glass, is part of the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), and was designed by architect Rafael Viñoly to maximize the interactions among everyone working there.

“Breaking down boundaries is key in this building, which is all about creating an open, welcome space and that starts with bringing people into the building,” says Bethany Lundell, a project manager with Rafael Viñoly Architects (RVA). Lundell got involved with this project during the construction documents phase. “Glazing helps create that openness and views and the glass allows you to see pretty much through the entire building and out into the city space, which also provides a strong sense of orientation to place and community.”

Getting Started
As an extension of the UCSF cancer research program, the 161,757 square feet of the building stands five stories and holds laboratories and offices, including three of the institution’s premier cancer research programs. The building’s layout was designed to encourage interaction among the researchers and scientists and to also enhance the interiors with natural lighting.

“In designing this research facility, it was important that the building design encourage the laboratory researchers to connect with each other, the rest of the building, and the outside world,” says Michael Badé, interim assistant vice chancellor, capital programs and campus architect with UCSF. “The School of Medicine views the enterprise of doing medical research as one that is best done in a highly social atmosphere [and] on interdisciplinary teams. Disease-focused research, such as cancer, certainly requires that approach.”

Glass was a key design element to creating such a structure.

“Open lab suites wrap the south and west faces of the building and they have continuous exterior windows with clearstory glazing, which helps open up the long, closed-in space,” says Lundell. “With the glazing, and especially the clearstory, we were able to utilize a light shelf and sunshade for both daylight control and thermal comfort—we can control the heat with the light shelf, but the glass still allows in light, which bounces off vaulted, acoustic ceiling tiles and is reflected into the depths of the open office suites.”

All of the offices have operable windows.

“There is not another building on campus that has that; it allows occupants to have more control over thermal comfort, as well as fresh air,” she says.

According to Badé, the building was also designed to achieve high energy performance and the exterior operable windows are a part of that strategy.

“We are not air-conditioning the office per say, but we’re using a cool roof system [in combination with] the operable windows to temper the environment instead of forced air conditioning ventilation,” he says.

In addition, there are glass transoms above all of the doors in the corridor spaces and floor-to-ceiling fixed glazing brings light from the atrium into those corridor spaces.

Best Contracting Services Inc. in Hayward, Calif., served as the contract glazier and was responsible for the installation of the project’s glazing and architectural metal. The company’s scope consisted of the entire building envelope, with exception of the stone finish. Ali Farzan, senior project manager, says glass selection was an important part of the job.

“Using the right type of glass has a positive impact on the work environment due to its affect on the energy efficiency, acoustical and thermal advantages, as well as the psychological role of natural lighting and ventilation,” Farzan says. “Aside from these advantages, glass enhances the beauty and elegance [of the design].”

While there are many different glazing elements, probably the most significant glass feature is the five-story atrium that is visually and physically accessible from surrounding program areas and exterior terraces. The atrium includes 1-inch insulating, structurally glazed glass with a low-E coating that was supplied by Viracon. The interior atrium glazing is 3/8-inch laminated, also supplied by Viracon.

“The labs and offices are each an L-shaped block that wraps around a central atrium, which is the social heart of the building,” says Badé. “The atrium and social organization of the building have been foremost in the minds of those at the school of medicine. I think that was one of the things that RVA did very well in designing the building was to create some interesting and exciting spaces in and adjacent to the atrium, which climbs up through the building on a diagonal and ends at the roof terraces.”

Lundell adds that allowing in large amounts of natural light can have a positive effect on the way people inside the building interact with one another, and that stems from the atrium.

“We’re trying to stimulate the researchers and the way they operate … there are different types of light in different spaces and we wanted to provide daylight in tough spaces … because it really does make a difference in terms of how you experience and enjoy a space,” says Lundell. “We wanted to provide it in every place in the building. We did not want the building to be dark.”

Something to Think About
With so much glass involved in the project there were many issues that had to be taken into consideration.

“It was important to know the material properties of glass, as well as their visual and thermal qualities,” says Lundell. “Structural strength [was also important as] we have a lot of glass spanning the curtainwall.”

Designing to account for seismic building codes also came into play.

“In California, a law was passed some time ago requiring all hospitals to be brought up to seismic code by a certain date; [for a long time] that date was last year,” says Badé. “That turned out to be a much larger undertaking in the legislature than anyone understood so the date has been pushed out to 2015.”

And, while Badè says the seismic building code requirements did change partway through the project, this project was grandfathered into an earlier version of the code. Since the curtainwall system used was actually designed for stringent requirements, the project was able to comply with the new code, even though it was not required.

Competitive construction was also challenging. Badé says California has seen an enormous upswing in institutional construction that has been going on for some time.

“So competition from other projects has driven up construction costs in this area. Labs and hospitals have a lot more similarities than differences. So this project had a lot of competition and it went over budget and we had to do re-designs to pull it back into budget.”

For all parties involved maintaining open communication and working together as a team was an important step to ensuring a successful project completion.

“Due to the complexity of the scope of work in the Helen Diller project few glazing contractors were able to participate in the bidding process,” says Farzan. “Our specialty in building envelopes enabled us to bid and finish this project successfully.”

Coordination and communication between RVA and Best was critical. Lundell says she worked on site for three years with the contract glaziers not only through the development of the drawings, but also through the execution and construction of the project.

“There have been extensive hands-on coordination and communication between our firm and [Best’s]. I truly can’t see the building being what it is without weekly, and often daily, contact to ensure the design integrity and the performance of the system was going to meet the design intent,” says Lundell. “This included in-depth shop drawing reviews and numerous on-site and off-site meetings. We also went with the glazing contractor to look at other projects that it had done to learn about the other challenges that it has experienced. We also went through an exercise developing an exterior wall mock-up.”

Farzan agrees that in order to achieve the design intent and function, communication and coordination between contractor and architect play an extremely important role.

“The level of communication has a direct affect on the quality and outcome of the job,” Farzan says. “Part of that communication rests on the contractor and architect, but other parties including, owner and the general contractor, have a huge impact on it as well, since communication is funneled through them.”

As an architectural firm, RVA is one that undertakes innovative, cutting-edge designs; ones that may not necessarily be considered traditional office designs.

“When you work with contractors you’re also working with their history and past projects that they have done. So there were times we had to help and encourage them to see that this wasn’t something they may have done on a typical office project.”

She continues, “One of our biggest challenges was working though the construction and helping keep people motivated. [This project] could have very easily disintegrated to off-the-shelf pieces and parts put together in a way that they always have been. We continued to push for using the parts in a way that perhaps they never have been [used before]. That’s something we believe at all costs and until someone tells us there is no way to do it, it’s possible.”

Looking Ahead
The fact that the Helen Diller Cancer Research Building is situated in a new development area has created a bit of uncertainty over how the area may change in the coming years.

“When you have [designed with] so much glass you’re opening yourself up to your surroundings and being in an open area you don’t really know what the people in the offices will be looking at in two or three years,” says Lundell. “You just cross your fingers and hope that the neighbors will give you something pleasing to see.”

Still, it’s the use of glass that made the design intent possible.

“Glass is a big part of the way the building is designed as a social environment for research,” says Badé. “Glass opens the building up in a way that really allows people to understand where they are in the city and feel a part of it.” AG


Ellen Rogers is the editor of the Architects’ Guide to Glass & Metal.


Architects' Guide to Glass & Metal
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