The University of North Carolina’s new Marsico Hall on the Health Affairs campus (Chapel Hill, N.C.) is allowing researchers, faculty, and students to take collaboration to greater heights. Designed by Perkins+Will (Research Triangle Park, N.C.), the 340,000-square-foot, 10-story building contains labs and imaging technology for the School of Medicine and the School of Pharmacy research teams.

It was conceived and designed as a collaborative facility with occupants including the UNC Lineberger Cancer Center, the Marsico Lung Institute, the Biomedical Research Imaging Center, and department researchers from nanomedicine, microbiology, chemistry, immunology, and pharmaco-engineering.

The goal was to provide a flexible, efficient design program to support Marsico’s multiple research disciplines and a building prepared to adapt to changing needs, says Joseph Wagner, a principal with Perkins+Will.

At Marsico Hall, walls can be removed and doors reconfigured to bring in new equipment. Glass breakaway walls on the building’s north service side bring in natural light and allow heavy equipment to be moved in and out. The upper-story laboratories have built-in flexibility with movable casework and furniture.

The facility houses an array of large-scale imaging equipment that helps researchers and clinicians develop targeted new therapies and drug treatments. The in-house equipment, installed on three floors, includes a hybrid MRI/PET whole-body scanner, a 7 Tesla MRI whole body scanner, and a cyclotron.

“Top researchers naturally want the latest and greatest in technology and equipment,” Wagner says. “The key is to keep up with a fast-changing research world and to provide a distinctive setting where the best talent in the world is excited to come.”

One of the biggest logistical challenges on the project was the integration of multiple imaging tools and the mitigation of vibrations that could derail research. “Imaging technology is based on powerful magnets which produce the sophisticated MRI and PET scans needed for research and treatment,” Wagner says. “When placed in close proximity to each other, there’s a huge risk of compromising quality and safety if not correctly planned.”

To resolve this issue, the design team responded with a precise zoning scheme, based on equipment specifications that dictate the zoning parameters for locating equipment in relation to other imaging tools.

The team also calibrated the magnetic shielding needed to safely operate each tool. When a new item, such as a scanning electron microscope, is added or moved, the building plan already identifies where it can be accommodated.

The design team also had to address exterior and interior vibration based on the facility’s urban site, which is adjacent to a roadway with 18-wheel freight truck traffic. Deep 68-foot foundations were created with two below-grade levels and extensive shoring systems on all sides. The building’s concrete structure includes 18-inch slabs for added resilience and vibration control in and around the structure.

Designed to LEED Gold standards, Marsico Hall houses several sustainable elements, including water harvesting, daylighting of interior spaces, exterior sun-shading, and high-performance mechanical systems to achieve optimal energy performance.

The facility was dedicated in fall 2014.