Size 33,675 ft²
Program University chemistry laboratories
Awards 2012 Boston Society of Architects Educational Facilities Award; 2012 SCUP/AIA-CAE Excellence in Architecture, Honor Award; 2012 AIA Pittsburgh Honor Award
Architect Wilson Architects
Associate Architect Renaissance 3 Architects
Client University of Pittsburgh
Engineers The Gateway Engineers, Barber & Hoffman, Affiliated Engineers Metro DC
General Contractor Mascaro Construction Company
Landscape Architect Brown Sardina
The University of Pittsburgh takes science seriously. Perhaps its most famous contribution to the field was Jonas Salk’s development of the famous polio vaccine on campus, but it has successfully educated thousands of scientists who also have made lasting contributions to modern society across a host of disciplines. To continue this legacy, buildings must be kept up to date, and the university’s chemistry department hired Wilson Architects to consolidate and improve its facilities—the first major upgrading since the 1970s.
Specifically, the department wanted to enhance opportunities for synthetic chemistry with new research space and sought to provide greater connectivity between the existing Chevron Science Center and Eberly Hall chemistry buildings. Another requirement: shared departmental resources, such as the chemistry library, needed a more central location. All the while, the school knew it needed to revitalize the existing Chevron Plaza, an outdoor public gathering space between the two aforementioned buildings.
As the department and Wilson Architects assessed these needs, it became apparent that the best design solution was to locate any new facilities at the Chevron Science Center, which is situated on a steeply graded wedge of land once designated to be a part of Henry Hornbostel’s Acropolis Plan, the first campus master plan circa 1907. The site, however, had no buildable space because the university wanted to preserve the adjacent wooded hillside.
To solve the site problem, Wilson Architects proposed erecting an air-rights addition above the existing Ashe Auditorium, a three-story structure next to the science center’s laboratory research tower. The new Chevron Annex, as it would be named, was designed to sit on top of a steel transfer structure resting on a discrete number of steel columned micro-piles that finger down through the roof of the auditorium. “The annex’s structural frame is unique because it provides a stable air-rights platform for vibration-sensitive analytical chemistry equipment while also minimizing the impact to the auditorium,” says Chris Martin, Wilson Architects’ principal-in-charge.
This innovative engineering choice allowed the department to place the synthetic and analytical chemistry laboratory spaces in close proximity to the existing chemistry facilities. The arrangement helped revitalize the undergraduate and graduate chemistry experience at the university while maintaining campus open space by preserving the wooded hillside.
From any angle, the new annex is an elegant addition to the Chevron Science Center. A buff terra-cotta exterior finish was used as a nod to the classic limestone of neighboring buildings, and the modularity and curtainwall patterning of the façade pick up on the cadence of those same structures. “The terra-cotta selection was a cost-effective and durable option offering a green solution since it contains up to 20 percent recycled materials by weight,” says Breana Werner, a project designer at Wilson Architects.
Beneath the annex’s refined exterior is a highly efficient facility housing innovative learning spaces. Selecting a “ballroom” laboratory layout where multiple laboratory modules of space are grouped together in an open setting promoted better collaboration, flexibility of use, and more open lines of sight for safety. The layout also reduces energy demand by grouping high-energy laboratory spaces and separating them from office and write-up areas via a glass partition.
Originally slated for LEED Silver certification by the university, the design team decided instead to raise the bar, striving for Gold. It created an energy model, which included a baseline and a proposed design as part of the LEED certification process. Using multiple strategies, including the ballroom laboratory, low-flow fume hoods, energy-recovery air-handling units, smart façade and fenestration design, daylight harvesting, and numerous occupancy controls, the team reduced predicted site energy to 25.3 percent less than the baseline. “This enormous energy savings equates to a reduction of 621 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year, or approximately the amount of carbon dioxide emitted [in powering] 32 single-family homes,” says Kristine Renner, Wilson Architects’ sustainability leader.
Certification LEED Gold (expected)
Site Air-rights structure preserves limited open space
Energy 25% reduction via occupancy sensors, daylighting, and grouped systems in lab spaces
HVAC High-efficiency systems including low-flow fume hoods, energy-recovery air-handling units
Materials Terra-cotta with recycled content, FSC-certified wood-based materials, 97.7% of construction waste recycled
The annex’s open plan means views of science-in-action are maintained throughout the research floors. The high level of internal transparency is a teaching and learning opportunity for students and researchers alike. Capitalizing on the building’s perched location and interior-exterior transparency, the facility creates a collaborative environment meant to bolster innovation. “The chemistry labs are designed to be highly functional, efficient, flexible, and safe for students,” Martin says. “The clear sight lines, natural light, panoramic views and open student spaces, create a collaborative setting for the users.”
Additionally, the original and underutilized Ashe lobby underwent a complete transformation as a result of the integration of the annex support structure. A hole in the exterior wall for a micro-pile rig led to the installation of a new window that brings in much needed light and views. Overall, more than 95 percent of the annex space is daylit, a remarkable achievement for a scientific laboratory facility. “The Chevron Annex seamlessly aligns the goals of the client, user, and designer,” Martin says. “The university sought to bring optimism and purpose back to its chemistry complex, and we guided them to a design solution that embodies that vision.”