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Innovative Design Promotes Sustainability and Collaboration

location of Saunders research building

The Saunders Research Building is not only home to cutting-edge clinical and translational medicine, but the building itself represents an innovation in design. It was designed with an eye toward sustainability and the health of its occupants and represents a new model for creating an academic space that fosters interaction and collaboration among its occupants.

Sustainability was the underlying principal in the design and construction of the building. The Saunders Research Building is eligible to be the first LEED-certified building at the University of Rochester. LEED – which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design – is a green building certification system that evaluates buildings on planning and design, energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reduction, and indoor environmental air quality. In March 2012, the building received LEEDS certification at the Gold level.

The building energy reduction features also qualify the building to participate in the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority programs for energy conservation, which provide assistance for sustainable building practices.

“Our goal from the outset was to raise the bar in terms of green design at the Medical Center while at the same time creating a facility that could serve as a future model for promoting teamwork and scientific collaboration,” said Mary Ockenden, associate vice president for Space Planning at URMC, who oversaw the Saunders Research Building’s design and construction for the Medical Center.

Worker constructing the Saunders Research BuildingThe building’s orientation and shallow footprint maximizes exposure to daylight. Windows wrap around the upper floors and include soffits which extend their height and maximize sunlight exposure. Individual offices are arranged in blocks that run perpendicular to the exterior windows creating an open floor plan which brings more natural light into the interior of the building. The individual offices also have glass walls to allow in ambient light. The lighting system is equipped with sensors that adjust the lighting level depending on the natural light exposure.

The building’s sustainable design extends to the adjacent grounds where landscaping consists of native and adaptive plants which will reduce the need for irrigation. The parking lot that serves the building will be made of porous pavement which captures and filters storm water and allows it to seep into the ground, recharging groundwater and reducing runoff.

A particular effort was made to use “local” materials in the building’s construction. For example, all of the cement in the building’s foundation and floors were made using recycled concrete and aggregate from local sources. 10 percent of the building’s total materials came from within 500 miles of its location.

The building also represents a new model of collaborative space. The interior details of the building – glass-walled offices, the height of partitions, shared common and conference rooms, and open staircases – were all designed to promote collaboration and innovation by encouraging the occupants to get out of their office interact with each other.

“The building’s open design is intended to compel interaction between scientists in different fields.” said Thomas Pearson, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H, director, in 2011, of the Clinical and Translational Science Institute. “The image we often conjure of medical research is the individual scientist laboring alone in the lab. However, true breakthroughs in medicine often arise out of the serendipity of a chance encounter with a colleague or the ability to walk down the hall and have an informal conversation.”

The Saunders Research Building was designed by Philadelphia-based architects Francis Cauffman along with local engineer Bergmann Associates and BR+A Consulting Engineers from Boston. LeChase Construction of Rochester was the construction manager for the building. Donald Blair & Partners Architects provided preliminary space programming and site planning along with Mark Chen Architect who served as a consultant for the Medical Center. The 200,000 square foot building was constructed over a 22-month period at a cost of $60 million.


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