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Location: University Park, Pa.
Type of Precast: Architectural precast
Size: 292,000 square feet (104,176 square feet of architectural precast cladding)
Soaring cantilever showcases architectural precast
The Millennium Science Complex is a new 292,000-square-foot building designed by Rafael Viñoly Architects for The Pennsylvania State University. The complex is the new home of the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences and Materials Research Institute, two of the leading research enterprises in the world, which occupy the two wings. The building is one of a small handful of buildings specifically constructed to support the integration of the physical and life sciences.
Initially planned as two separate buildings, the design team combined the projects into a single L-shaped building early in the design process. "The building is both a gateway and a connection between the two sciences," says Viñoly, noting in a video that they have been traditionally considered much more separated than the future indicates they will be. The project consolidates engineering, chemistry, biology, physics, and other disciplines that had been housed in 40 locations around campus.
Uniting the buildings also brought economies of scale to the project, and helped accelerate the construction schedule. Built as part of a campus master plan initiated in 1998, the $190 million complex joins the Information Sciences and Technology Building as the second campus building designed by the Uruguayan-born Viñoly.
A signature detail of the L-shaped building is its massive cantilever which soars 154 feet over a plaza and garden at the intersection of the wings at the main entrance. An opening penetrates through the cantilever to allow direct sunlight to reach the plaza and garden. The cantilever signals the forward-looking convergence of the sciences, and imparts functional benefits to the activities of the occupants.
Bordered by the Life Sciences Building on the west, with Bigler Road to the east, Pollock Road to the south and the Student Health Services Building to the north, the building is clad in soap brick architectural precast panels produced by High Concrete Group LLC. The red modular brick in a stack bond pattern is accented with a recessed, brown brick every eight courses. The resulting banding emphasizes the horizontal lines of the structure.
Brick is an important finish on campus, and planners go to great lengths to ensure that new buildings blend aesthetically. Because of its extreme geometry and construction schedule, the Millennium Science Complex was not deemed a candidate for conventional hand-laid brick.
A range of sustainable features, including green roofs, were included in the building’s application for LEED Certification. The building also has heat recovery wheels to recycle air and absorb energy, deep-set windows with etching to reduce heat gain and loss as well as louvers to reduce heat gain in the summer and allow the sun in during the winter.
The cantilever theme is repeated at the ends of the building where the thin brick veneer panels are mounted to steel frames. "The roofs are extended beyond the ends of the building in a trellis-like manner to extend their length and to bring it a human scale," says Dick Tennent, Office of the Physical Plant project manager for the Millennium Science Complex. The building is 77 feet tall at the top of the fourth floor over the cantilever and steps down to 52 feet at the ends.
Importantly, the cantilever allows isolation of the building structure from lower level scientific spaces where sensitive equipment is protected from vibration, noise, temperature, and humidity. "Quiet labs are placed in that corner in the basement, because the cantilever ensures that no vibration from footfalls or noise of the building generated by machinery is carried down," says Tennent.
Much of the work in the 40,000-square-foot quiet labs area involves nanotechnology research and the use of ultrasensitive electron microscopes, which are easily disrupted by electricity and vibration. No other campus building has the isolation required to support the quiet lab equipment.
Because of its size and depth, the cantilever is unique. The engineer had to calculate the deflection [the degree to which a structural element is displaced under a load] it would experience as you build each piece of the structure. As loads are added, like steel and precast concrete panels, the deflection increases. The construction team measured the deflection in the field, and erected the precast concrete panels in a certain sequence to even it out to even out the load as it was built.
The building is the largest and most comprehensive research building on the campus. The structurally innovative design aids in attracting distinguished researchers who are key partners in providing an improved research environment and increasing new discoveries. In addition to the research lab needs that had to be considered, design and construction of the building balanced multiple priorities of creating an aesthetic fit on campus, meeting environmental standards, and enhancing pedestrian paths.
The building's landscaping and walkways enhance pedestrian connections from Shortlidge Mall to Bigler Road and from Pollock Road to the Student Health Center. The expansive green space in front of the complex includes a plateau about the size of an athletic field for student leisure and informal recreation. The building opened in September, 2011.