By Meghan Hall
The new Knight Cancer Research Building (KCRB) in Portland seeks to bring previously competing scientists, experts and researchers together to tackle one of the biggest challenges to human health: cancer. In order to do this, the development’s project team centered the KCRB’s whole design around “team science.” This attitude seeped into every aspect of the building, from integration of lab space, to social hubs to equitable access and vertical connections.
“Many areas of research are extraordinarily complex problems, and perhaps none more challenging than the mechanisms involved in cancers,” explained SRG Partnership’s Principal Lab Designer Tim Evans. “This enormous complexity necessitates forming teams that integrate various disciplines and perspectives to leverage collective knowledge and insight.
In addition to SRG Partnership as architect, the development team included a McCarthy and Anderson, a joint venture that acted as contractor, KPFF Consulting Engineers, PAE Consulting Engineers, B & H Architects, Integral Group, CPP and many others.”
“Team science assumes that no singular idea or person will drive innovation, but instead the opportunity to make real impact lies in cross-disciplinary collaboration,” added SRG Principal Laurie Canup. “As such, equitable design solutions drove the building’s design.”
The building is located at Oregon Health & Science University’s (OHSU) Schnitzer Campus within Portland’s South Waterfront District. The neighborhood is known as a pedestrian-oriented hub and is home to a number of research and academic institutions. The development team wanted the KCRB to cater to all scientists, turning former competitors into teammates.
To accomplish this, the development team worked to integrate labs using an open neighborhood concept defined by research floors. Shared team space and wet and dry labs are located side-by-side and are connected via glass walls, enhancing visibility and flow of light. The layout works to integrate bench research, computational labs, data analysts and others to create a more dynamic research environment. The lab floors are elevated above the ground plane, while retail and conference centers are situated on the ground floor.
A “collabridor,” a new term for a circulation path throughout the building, runs along the south floors of the second through fifth floors. It connects research neighborhoods and works to “democratize” exterior wall space and access to daylight. Additionally, notes SRG, its sawtooth pattern allows for views of the Tilikum Crossing Bridge.
The project team also strove to create intellectual and social hubs through a central kitchen, auditorium and informal seating areas. A social lounge and rooftop terrace are among the community’s favorite features.
“The programming and design of the building benefited greatly from the integration of workplace design into a scientific community,” said Evans. “We examined the dual phenomena of collaborative work and social interaction and the cultural tendencies involved in each of these behaviors. The result was a sort of sociological overlay that influenced many design decisions.”
Spaces are connected by a primary spine, that runs through the building’s north side and links open staircases and social hubs. The spine adds transparency between floors, and SRG worked to create a non-hierarchical design through the use of clerestories, rhythmic vertical windows, numerous indoor-outdoor connections and operable glass wall systems at the ground level.
Materials selection was also hugely tied to KCRB’s mission. Non-toxic, carcinogen-free building materials in high-touch zones were a priority, and carbon reduction strategies were employed where possible. Open labs feature polished concrete floors, and dropped ceilings were treated as cloud ceilings for acoustic benefits.
“All of the indoor materials were evaluated through a healthy materials lens prior to submittal approvals,” said Canup.
Looking ahead, the KCRB facility will operate in a rapidly changing world, as requirements surrounding healthcare design continue to evolve. SRG expects a number of factors to impact the nature of healthcare design, including increases in computational biology, telehealth and capacity to handle pandemic-related outbreaks. Space for data analysis, as well as “flex” rooms that can be turned into isolation zones, as well as changes to mechanical systems, are just a few of the ways medical and research buildings are expected to evolve.
“In addition, many of our clients are reflecting on the operational challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic and scratching their heads to determine what changes are here to stay, what will return to “normalcy,” and what new hybrids will emerge,” remarked Evans. “We think this will result in far-reaching implications for office and educational spaces but may also have unintended consequences for the collaborative efforts essential to scientific discovery.”