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University of Pittsburgh, Thomas E. Starzl Biomedical Science Tower Image: LSY Architects   

University of Pittsburgh, Thomas E. Starzl Biomedical Science Tower, 12th Floor, Pittsburgh, Pa. (renovation)

Budget: $13 million

Size: 44,525 ft2

Project team: LSY Architects & Laboratory Planners, Silver Spring, Md. (architect); Affiliated Engineers, Washington, D.C. (MEP); Simpson Gumpertz & Heger, Washington, D.C. (structural engineer); Turner Construction, Pittsburgh, Pa. (CM)

Description: The Thomas E. Starzl Biomedical Science Tower (BST), a biomedical research facility providing nine floors of dedicated laboratory space, is located in the heart of the University of Pittsburgh campus. Constructed in 1989, this 20-year-old facility suffered from aging infrastructure, deteriorating interior construction, and an outmoded layout of cloistered laboratories. The laboratories had no natural light and were separated from the exterior by personnel corridors, in addition to being separated from other labs by service corridors, which limited opportunities for collaboration and casual idea exchanges. Furthermore, the facility had no flexibility to respond to changing research priorities and instrumentation needs. This project renovated 44,500 gross square feet (GSF) of space on the 12th floor of the BST to create a consolidated, modern, flexible, open laboratory space with associated support spaces. The renovations created an open, collaborative, expansive environment to house high-level basic and translational research for two high-impact and growing programs at the University of Pittsburgh: The Vascular Medicine Institute (VMI) and the research programs of the Division of Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care Medicine (PACCM).

The design created two large open laboratories on the east and west that "wrapped" support laboratories on the interior. The main north-south corridor had to remain and, therefore, this configuration benefited the layout by interconnecting the east and west sectors with transparent "line-of sight" from east laboratory to the west and decreased the perceived separation between the two Institutes.

The researcher desk areas were concentrated along the exterior walls on the east and west, separated from laboratory benches by a glass wall. The glass walls from the laboratory to the desk area, allows constant visual monitoring of the bench for the researchers, as well as visual communication with other researchers. Concentrating the desk and collaboration zones in one area, separate from the wet bench area, also decreases energy demands by reducing the air changes per hour in these zones in comparison to the laboratories.

Another element to the design that opened up the laboratories was providing windows into the laboratory from the interior corridors on the north and south. This provides a connection to non-laboratory personnel as well as giving visitors and donors a chance to get a "glimpse of science at work," without entering the laboratory.

The project used a flexible casework system constructed of movable bench units with adjustable shelving and mobile base cabinets in timeless colors and clear maple. Utilities are connected to benches via ceiling panels with quick-disconnect fittings. This system allows for quick reconfiguration to facilitate new advances in the lab or unique requirements for new recruits.

The design increased space efficiency and improved overall workflows, fostering scientific collaboration, communication, and faculty recruitment. Design features included the addition of exterior windows, reduced corridor size, and clustered functions and groups to increase space efficiency by 25% while allowing 25% for future growth. With the addition of the windows and flexible design, 75% of spaces gained access to natural light.

Completion date: October 2011

Contact: Theresa Schehl, LSY Architects & Laboratory Planners,