Partnering for Research: The New Buffalo Life Sciences Complex

The City of Buffalo and New York State Governor George Pataki are betting that the recent opening of two new buildings of the Buffalo Life Sciences Complex will transform not just the city of Buffalo, but also the very process of research. Odds are that they will also set new architectural standards for laboratory buildings.

The two adjoined, four- and five-story-high structures of sparkling-white aluminum and metal panels, red brick and glass — which total 290,000 sq. ft. and cost $225 million combined — are the work of one of America’s leading laboratory design firms, Francis Cauffman Foley Hoffmann Architects ( Built on the south edge of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, the facilities — the New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics; operated by the University at Buffalo, and the Roswell Park Cancer Institute’s Center for Genetics and Pharmacology — merge, in one location, two long-time research collaborators in a new complex devoted to translational research. Together, and with their partner, Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute, the three entities comprise the Buffalo Life Sciences Complex (BLSC).

The BLSC will optimize interdisciplinary collaboration in the fight against cancer, cardiovascular disease and neurodegenerative disease, which in turn, will lead to the development of new treatments and tools to combat viruses and biological agents. The research performed by the complex’s research partners will play a major role in the advancement of innovative biomedical treatments and in the discovery and commercialization of related drug therapies and medical devices.

A Fine Example of Collaboration
“These two buildings represent a significant investment by the citizens of western New York,” proudly notes James T. Crispino, president of Francis Cauffman.“They are a living example of how a public and a private institution can collaborate for the greater good of each institution and for the communities they serve. Francis Cauffman’s work is enriched by this context of collaboration. The civic impact of the buildings will yield benefits that far exceed the initial investment that was required to create them.”

Built to accelerate research into the control, prevention and cure of disease, the Buffalo Center will greatly increase“through-put” — the ability to quickly move scientific research from lab bench to the commercial market, and thus patients.

Although the design of the two buildings highlights the collaborative nature of the two institutions, each wing has its own distinct — though complementary — façade, according to Francis Cauffman Architects’ Director of Design Steve Lebowitz. Francis Cauffman used a common palette of materials, including Norman (double-length) red brick for the sides and rear façade; glass and white aluminum panels along the primary façade; and zinc, a material chosen for its sustainable properties as much as for its color, for the massive mechanical penthouses.

Throughout the entire complex, generous windows permit huge amounts of natural light, unusual in lab buildings. The RPCI wing features projecting bays and horizontal bands of windows that push out from the building. As a counterpoint, the glazed portions of the UB wing are recessed. A glass stair tower on the east side of the building and a transparent, triple-height tower on the west end serve as bookends. Offices, lounges and corridors, as well as labs — which rarely have windows, especially large ones — are flooded with natural light.

The LEEDing Edge
The buildings are designed to stringent environmental standards. Ample access to daylight is just one of the features that make the complex a candidate for a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver rating. This hard-won designation from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) is rare for a lab, where energy costs run so high — and might have been expected to run substantially higher here because of the computational components, which require vast amounts of power and extensive cooling systems. Instead, sustainable design features used for the buildings will improve overall energy efficiency by 30 percent, compared to the baseline (standard) energy code requirements.

Creating Space for Interaction
Dr. David Hohn, president and CEO of Roswell Park, credited as the visionary who facilitated the development, told Francis Cauffman to create a building far different from the other labs on the Roswell Park campus — or anywhere. “Interaction is key to 21st-century scientific study,” he instructed; “it is conducted by teams of researchers working across many disciplines.”

Lebowitz listened carefully to Dr. Hohn’s mandate. “The RPCI Center for Genetics and Pharmacology and UB’s Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences are actually two buildings in one,” he notes. The Center for Genetics and Pharmacology occupies the east wing, while — on the other side of a gracious landscaped U-shaped entrance — the Center of Excellence occupies the west wing.

Lebowitz further explains “the same elements that make the interior organization more collaborative also make the building highly expressive. While each entity will have its own research projects and some in common, our design team incorporated a generous dose of common spaces where people can come together informally as well as officially.”

Expansive reception areas/lobbies and 10 double-height conference rooms line the window walls along the south façade. Four informal “pods” (interconnected conference rooms or lounges) stretch out from the structure and link the research/lab floors together. Researchers have private offices, and teams are grouped in “neighborhood” office clusters. Building amenities include a 150-seat lecture hall and a café.

Dr. Hohn further recognized that the quality of the facilities would help to attract exceptional international research staff, a major challenge. “The elegant design is a potent recruiting tool. Top talent expects superior laboratory buildings. This new structure is already a key negotiating tool in our discussions with researchers now under recruitment.”

“Our emphatic partnership of academic research and commercial development has been the driver for the functional and physical organization of our high-performing new building,” notes Dr. Bruce Holm, director of the UB’s Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences. “One obvious difference from traditional labs is the amount of space given over to bioinformatics, which is the powerful computational component of the research associated with the life sciences. While the building includes the latest in time-honored “wet” laboratories, it also houses one of the world’s largest academic supercomputing clusters,” Holm explains.

Optimized Space
“Science buildings must also optimize space for reasons of which the general public may not be aware,” explains Francis Cauffman Project Manager Glen Conley. “Because non-research functions are rarely funded, we consolidated functions and reduced costs because the labs are linked to each other — and to the private offices — by a remarkably efficient, dual-function circulation spine that also serves as equipment space. This solution saves space, removes large, noisy and/or heat-producing equipment from the labs and works well for federal funding ratios, which are done on a per-square-foot basis.”

Like the scientific process itself, the building’s design emphasizes the concept of discovery. In the office portions, splayed and irregular long corridors turn into intriguing offshoots. “The interior layout symbolizes the process of problem-solving,” Lebowitz clarifies. Mushroom-shaped ceiling light fixtures that follow a random, coherent pattern and modular ceiling fabric planes that absorb sound in the café and lecture hall further suggest the creative nature of the design and research process alike. Lebowitz, a painter as well, added other artistic flourishes in the terrazzo floors and in perforated maple panels on the ceilings and along the stair enclosures.