Pfizer, with large campuses on both sides of the Thames River in southeastern Connecticut housing its Global Research & Development headquarters, brings medical innovations in the form of life-extending and life-improving medicines to millions of patients around the world. Corporate inventiveness and market share have placed Pfizer in a dominant position on the international map, but Pfizer recently established another landmark, this time with a building, rather than a miracle drug.

Completed in April 2005, Pfizer's new 62,000-square-foot Clinical Research Unit (CRU) is located in a bustling, centuries-old section of New Haven, Connecticut. The building serves a single use: to house the labs and human resources essential to Phase I testing of potential new medicines on healthy volunteers. Unlike clinics that test drugs on patients seeking a cure or palliative treatment for a disease, the CRU didn't require the facilities or ambience of a hospital. Pfizer wanted to design a building that had the capacity and infrastructure to manage and monitor these important trials and, at the same time, make 50 volunteers and 50 staff members feel comfortable and welcome.

The corporation had another equally critical mission: to house the facility in a green, sustainable building. Not that “clean and green” was a new concept for Pfizer; executives and management had already heralded a new “Green Chemistry” program to minimize chemical use within their facilities. A green building was simply the next logical step.

Pfizer knew that success would depend not just on selected materials, energy considerations, and site preparation, but also on the design and delivery process. Integrated design, a synergistic approach to architectural design and construction, has been noted as the most effective way to address the complex issues that can make or break an environmentally sound structure. Pfizer hired The S/L/A/M Collaborative to design the facility and The Whiting-Turner Contracting Company to build it within the parameters of a fully integrated process.

Sustained commitment

From the outset, Pfizer demonstrated its commitment to the integrated approach by hosting a sustainability workshop early in the process. All teams involved—architectural, engineering, and construction—convened to develop green strategies.

As the result of enhanced teamwork over the course of completion, Pfizer's CRU surpassed expectations, with 20% more energy-efficiency than the reference EPA ENERGY STAR Target Finder building. That attracted the attention of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and the Green Building Initiative, which recognized the facility for use of eco-friendly and high-performance principles, procedures, and materials during design and construction.

The building became the first in Connecticut to achieve the LEED Silver certification by the USGBC, and it earned the “Three Globes” designation from the Green Building Initiative for incorporating energy and environmental considerations into design and construction.

Not bad for a building set on land previously contaminated by building demolition materials. Clearly, Pfizer's original goals were matched by a design process that was flexible and innovative enough to accommodate the tough challenges it faced. Not the least of these was public perception of the facility and Pfizer's commitment to the community.

Doing the right thing

Pfizer knew there would be some public pressure and skepticism over the new clinical trial facility, located on remediated land between two prominent New Haven streets. The company wanted to do the right thing as a good corporate neighbor and as a corporation poised for an agenda of environmental responsibility. The neighborhood is a mix of three-story, residential, multifamily units; residential towers; a hospital; and a medical school. Pfizer's facility had to fit in place without disturbing established roadways or towering over neighboring structures.

Just as important, Pfizer wanted to give its volunteers every assurance that the new building was free of any health threat and that its architecture adhered to the highest standards of environmental safety. At the same time, the design had to address human needs, such as privacy, thermal comfort, and aesthetic ambience.

The integrated design approach made sustainability feasible across all of the following categories:

Aesthetically welcoming and right-sized. The CRU combines streamlined simplicity with visual detailing. The main structure is a rectangular bar with a quarter circle entry projection. The exterior treatment, configuration, and materials were selected to complement the scale of the neighborhood while remaining in line with Pfizer's corporate image. Instead of a blank monotone façade, the structure incorporates patterned brick of varying sizes and colors that invite the eye. Articulated window systems and the delineation of structured bays likewise add interest, creating a sense of scale and place that's in keeping with a busy, mixed-use area. The corners of the building serve as a visual beacon to the community with such public elements as stairs, waiting areas, and conference rooms. Within the building, exterior views are visible from every area, creating an open, light-filled atmosphere.

Ideal energy efficiency. Inside and out, the facility sets an ideal for energy conservation. Site topography and orientation provide a sheltered environment that reduces energy cost surges due to wind, snow, and temperature extremes. The facility's floor area, while spacious and functional, minimizes the space to be heated and cooled. Window glazing with a low U-value and other treatments keeps the interior climate comfortable year round, and the energy metering includes an energy management system, as well as an agreement with the local utility to shift to a diesel generator during peak use. All systems, from lighting to elevators, were selected for their high efficiency. Even energy-efficient transportation has its place at the facility, since the entrance is readily accessible to public transportation and there is a preferred parking area for car pools.

Reduced maintenance and conserved resources. Wherever possible, the building makes use of materials that minimize resource consumption. For instance, the ceiling tiles and light fixtures were previously used and refurbished. Water is conserved with faucets and showerheads that limit water flow, as well as low-flush toilets and waterless urinals. There is direct access to daylight throughout 80% of the space, reducing the need for overhead lighting. Recycling and composting are built into the design, with 120 square feet designated for the storage of recyclable waste. To reduce strain on the building (as well as the maintenance budget), materials such as the brick façade, metal roof membrane, roofing system, glass, and curtainwall system were specified for durability and low maintenance.

A clean, safe, comfortable indoor environment. The facility's ventilation system flushes the interior with 100% outdoor air that is filtered with efficiency (65% arrestance, at a minimum). To limit indoor pollution, the facility includes features that reduce humidity to prevent the growth of fungus, mold, and bacteria. Air-handling units are easy to access and drain, reducing pollution from accumulated debris. Other measures have been taken to avoid air pollution, including walk-off mats and low-VOC furniture. For maximum safety, hazardous and flammable materials are housed in secure, ventilated storage areas.

The comfort of volunteers and staff is essential in a facility like this. To keep noise down and meet privacy and speech intelligibility requirements, the acoustic quality of the materials used is of the highest grade, and the design conforms to ASHRAE 55-2004 for thermal comfort.

Eco-friendly. The new CRU makes use of land that might not have been complementary to the surrounding cityscape. To minimize ecologic impact and the heat island effect, 30% of impervious surfaces are shaded. The same benefit results from the use of high-albedo materials on 75% of the roof surface. Native plantings surround the building to contribute to the site's ecology and aesthetics.

Conclusions

The success of this building proves that practicality and sustainability are not mutually exclusive. The Pfizer CRU meets the needs of its users while still incorporating leading-edge principles of sustainable design and construction. It is a striking example, showing that these goals are both compatible and attainable.

As a leading innovator in drug research and technology, Pfizer has carved out a complementary niche as a forward-thinking and committed corporate citizen. The New Haven CRU stands as an example of what can be accomplished when the concept of sustainability is fully grasped and the commitment is made to every phase of the project, as well as every square foot. HD

Robert F. Pulito, AIA, is a Principal of The S/L/A/M Collaborative and leader of the Science & Technology Studio, where he manages the planning, programming, and design of many of the firm's most technically challenging projects. The S/L/A/M Collaborative is a full-service, integrated architectural firm with offices in Boston, Atlanta, Connecticut, and Chicago.