The new, 120,000-square-foot, three-story Norris Cotton Cancer Center Research Laboratories addition at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC) has transformed the facility into a comprehensive, integrated medical center that combines the highest level of patient-centered healthcare with advanced research activities to facilitate innovative strategies for the treatment and cure of cancer. The vertical addition contains two wet laboratory floors on Levels 6 and 7 and one dry laboratory floor on Level 8, with administrative headquarters and offices for dry research. The three floors are linked by an atrium, providing a unified identity for research and to enable the floors to function together as a single unit.

The principal design challenge was to develop a generic lab approach that would facilitate existing research, while supporting future endeavors and recruitment. The design solution was to create an open “adaptable lab,” which has all moveable casework to enable customization, yet remains efficient and economical. Within the open lab areas, careful attention was given to the users’ sense of territory—spatial dimensions with discernible physical definition that are comfortable for occupants.

Project category: New construction & Remodel/Renovation (completed September 2003)

Chief administrator: Mark Israel, MD, Director, Norris Cotton Cancer Center, (603) 650-5880

Firm: Shepley Bulfinch Richardson and Abbott, (617) 423-1700

Design team: Malcolm P. Kent, AIA, Principal-in-Charge; Carolyn C. Judge, Assoc. AIA, Project Manager; Adrian Walters, Project Architect; Anne Garrity, Interior Designer; Ken Grizzell, Construction Administration Specialist

Photography: © Richard Mandelkorn Photography; © Shepley Bulfinch Richardson and Abbott

Total building area (sq. ft.): 120,000 (new); 13,000 (renovation)

Construction cost/sq. ft.: $275 (new construction only)

Total cost (excluding land): $33,000,000 (new construction only)

Office clusters break up the open areas into a comfortable size, while each space is visually linked to the others. Aisles are set up axially, and glass provides views to spaces beyond. By establishing a network of circulation routes and nodal spaces—break rooms, conference rooms, mailrooms, lounges, and “hoteling” areas—the design offers opportunities for people to meet spontaneously and strike up conversations. (Hoteling is a concept in which staff are mobile and use unassigned workstations or lounge space in which to do their work wherever they are, rather than having permanent work space.)

On the dry-research floor, frequent openings to exterior views and the boldly colored curved wall, which extends the length of the building at the floor interior, help orient users. Wide, up-lit corridors and offices with glazed clerestory windows enhance a sense of community while maintaining acoustic privacy.

In contrast to the intensity of the labs, the atrium offers a restful space for informal gathering, with an emphasis on verticality and an exterior view. A glass “waterfall” creates a dynamic sculptural element in the atrium that visually connects the three levels and echoes the curved forms in the ceiling and lighting fixtures. Shared conference and lounge areas ensure that all users interact and appreciate the interconnected nature of the entire research facility. The atrium is also used extensively by staff and clinicians from other departments, creating a sense of connection between the research environment and DHMC as a whole.