When the University of California at San Francisco decided it had outgrown its basic health science laboratory space at the main Parnassus Campus, the University had just the place for a new one: a 303-acre parcel of land known as Mission Bay. The new lab, called Genentech Hall, would be the first building of an eventually massive medical/scientific/retail/residential complex on the site. Encompassing more than 434,000 square feet and costing $159 million, the lab would have to accommodate the demands of cutting-edge science—the constantly evolving concepts and techniques of biomedical research. This meant that the designers of the new structure had two watchwords: “flexibility” and “collegiality.” Recently William L. Diefenbach, AIA, of SmithGroup, Inc., the lead architect on the project, offered HEALTHCARE DESIGN some of the insights and rationale behind key features of Genentech Hall.

The Design Process

“Exploring the needs of the client, particularly of the various scientific disciplines involved, was a five-year process from concepts to occupancy. We met with representatives of chemistry, biochemistry, molecular biology, mass spectrometry, crystallography, computation, and others in a series of interviews, coming back and repeating them until we could find commonality supporting a generic design that would allow different functions to be performed at different times in the same modular space. This effort was key to being able to develop the necessary flexibility of this design.”

Flexible Design

“In Genentech Hall, which accommodates about 900 researchers and students, we have open labs and support labs in a ratio of 1 to 1.2. The open labs are a set of 6 to 10 modules, each 10.5 × 32 feet, that are tied together in loose configuration, having only movable casework with glazed partitions, rather than fixed walls, between them. The support labs of various sizes, including 10.5 × 20 feet, 10.5 × 10 feet, and 21 × 20 feet, are reserved for functions that might disrupt the open labs in producing heat, noise, or vibration.

“These support labs are customizable to a variety of functions, as needed: fume hood rooms, tissue culture rooms, cold rooms, glass wash areas, and chemical stores. Utilities are identical and equally accessible to all; each support lab has the same lighting, same utility drops, same sink connections, and individual environmental controls, so that any or all of these can be hooked up and used as needed. All furniture is movable.

“In the overhead space above both the open and support labs are continuous racks of pipes with stubs and valves allowing access to any combination of utilities needed by the particular lab. This is based on what we, at SmithGroup, have developed as the ‘Integrated Building Systems’ concept, a three-dimensional matrix that allows the ultimate flexibility for utility support.

“Is this kind of redundant design expensive? To a large extent, costs are offset by the simplicity and efficient, identical nature of the systems, and the client thought the flexibility it purchased was well worth it, especially since it wasn't known who, specifically, would be moving in at first. We had a customization budget of 1.5% of total cost and, as it turned out, the contractor was able to customize the spaces well within budget.”

Encouraging Collegiality

“Much of laboratory design today is about encouraging interaction among the scientists and other disciplines involved. And, as it turned out with this design, collegiality was probably the client's top priority. We have areas with casual seating, white boards, and bright, stimulating colors in spaces between the elevators and atrium. The key spaces for this, though, are the gathering spaces built into the labs themselves.

“On each floor there are four lab ‘neighborhoods,’ and at the centroid of each neighborhood is a gathering space; it's really at the conflux of all horizontal circulations from lab to lab, from open lab to support labs, and from labs to offices. These gathering spaces have multiple uses. They incorporate a kitchen, a library, white boards, casual seating, and dining seating—altogether, about 250 square feet. To the client, the key was that this be a centralized gathering space, not a remote ‘destination.’ Everything has been done to encourage comfortable, informal discussion.”

Exterior Appearance

“The master plan devised by the firm Machado and Silvetti Associates lays out how this building and all future buildings on the site are to relate to one another geographically and in appearance. The outer two inches of Genentech Hall was the responsibility of the firm ZGF (Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Partnership), based in Portland, Oregon. They've provided for cladding of Italian ‘classico’ travertine marble in light beige, with tan window surrounds and banded accents. The labs have large windows, and even broader glazing is used for the offices, atrium, conference rooms, stairway, and café, to provide an open feeling. The top of the building, which was allowed to be somewhat idiosyncratic in design, features pyramidal forms that screen the major air handling systems.

“Tying the building together with the campus is a 338-seat amphitheater, which is colonnaded and steps up to a terrace that links the atrium to the central campus plaza in front.” HD