Renewable Water Resources – Water Testing Laboratory

This design pushes the envelope of what a modern, government laboratory should be and ensures that authentic collaboration and cross disciplinary interaction occur throughout the building.

The 17,700 SF long linear one-story building is oriented to utilize the foundations of three oversized the abandoned concrete water tanks below site’s grade. This positioning worked perfectly with the modularity needed for the laboratory space which determined the width and the depth of the structure, and also allowed for maximum natural daylight.

The glass penetration along the exterior façade, framed by rustic stone and metal panel system, creates a rhythm which not only grounds the building to the site but also allows for transparency and connects the building to the natural environment. The building’s façade transitions to a more transparent and open outdoor space framed by tapered columns and louvered sun-screens to control heat and direct sunlight within the space. This outdoor space, called the Outdoor Learning Pavilion, anchors the main entrance of the building. The large glass wall entrance along with the dramatic roof line create a grand entrance that is welcoming for both employees and visitors.

The building program is divided into three primary sections: the main entrance, the open laboratory, and the laboratory support spaces.
The main entrance includes the lobby, meeting spaces and the covered outdoor learning center pavilion, which can be utilized for educational activities.
The design emphasizes transparency, and the public circulation through the building provides framed views of the activities in the laboratories.

The main laboratory consists of a single open space, housing white standing-height casework which creates workstations that are both ergonomic and supportive of team-based work and training activities. The laboratory support wing features specialized labs which require separation based on the functional requirement and environmental conditions needed for specific testing procedures.

The conference and break rooms, accented by the wood-like ceiling, provide ample social spaces for staff members to rest, relax and collaborate outside the laboratory work areas.

In support of the client’s mission of environmental stewardship, the new facility is pursuing LEED Silver certification and includes strategies such as daylighting, energy recovery systems, a water saving and collection strategies, and incorporation of the effluent water into the HVAC loop. In addition, 1/3 of the electricity used on campus is created on site through the conversion of methane gas.

Design Challenge

The design challenge for this project was ultimately the repurposing of the abandoned underground tanks, utilizing the deep foundations for the new building. This strategy eliminated the need for extensive excavation, reduced the associated time and preserved the embodied energy. The structural design uses the tank walls as foundation piers. By cutting the tops of the tanks, the new grade beams span the three tanks, distributing the building load to the tanks’ foundation footings. The new concrete building slab then sits on the new structural system. After overcoming this challenge, the team capitalized on opportunities to improve the client’s visibility from the street with the intent of strengthening community connections through the use of natural material such as the rusticated stone, glass, wood and concrete for the building fenestration.

Physical Context

The brownfield site was an abandoned wastewater treatment plant. The building location offered significant opportunities for adaptive reuse, community revitalization, environmental education, client visibility, access to the recently constructed administration building and access to the Reedy River and Swamp Rabbit Trail. The building’s location was determined by the orientation of the existing underground water tank on the site. This resulted in a linear distributed building program which posed minimal disturbance to the existing site. This building has mostly southern exposure which creates opportunities to create layering along the façade to control the amount of daylight entering the building. This was accomplished by shifting program space such as the training room back, allowing the colonnade of columns supporting the roof overhang to wrap and extended above the learning pavilion. The combination of the roof overhang and the louvered shading effectively block the sun during the year and controls the heat gain within the building and outdoor space.