Elements of new Frick lab join to create 'best infrastructure' for chemistry

chemistry index

The new Frick Chemistry Laboratory incorporates a large amount of glass in its design, providing natural lighting of the interior while also regulating temperature. For example, the glass in this stairwell on the east side of the building is fritted with small ceramic dots to control heat gain. The building's location, design and materials were chosen to enhance the area on the south edge of campus near Washington Road.

Photos by Denise Applewhite

Gazing skyward from the first floor of the four-story atrium, visitors to Princeton University's newly completed Frick Chemistry Laboratory observe reflections of light playing with shadow.

Filtering the light are 216 photovoltaic panels that shield the glass roof. Casting the shadows are pedestrian bridges that span the 27-foot-wide space between two wings at three locations and at three levels. Glass covers much of the inside façade of the 265,000-square-foot building designed by Hopkins Architects of London in collaboration with Payette Associates of Boston. Two open curved stairwells with glass railings bow into the linear wall scheme on the west wing.

The atrium is just one example of how the architects arrived at the right formula for the structure by emphasizing integration.

"We wanted to encourage communication between researchers and at the same time inspire the younger students by letting them see the workings of the department," said Michael Hopkins, founding partner of Hopkins Architects. "We reinterpreted the typical lab layout to achieve transparency right across the building so that the write-up areas, laboratories, group rooms and offices are all visibly linked across the width of the building. It was also vital that we ensured a visible link between the floors, which we did by accommodating the atrium along the length of the building to create a single space, which all activities look into. This is the focus that we hope will bring everyone together, help integrate general teaching and high-level research, and enhance collaboration and creativity."

University Architect Ron McCoy predicted, "That is probably the singular most stunning interior space on campus since the chapel -- in terms of its size, the kind of grandeur of it. People are going to drop their jaws and look up when they enter that atrium, just as they do in the chapel."

chemistry atrium

The atrium -- named Taylor Commons -- is intended as a gathering place, and will include study tables, and lounge and café seating. Overhead hangs a sculpture, "Resonance," by Richmond, Va., artist Kendall Buster. "People are going to drop their jaws and look up when they enter," predicted University Architect Ron McCoy.

Other examples of this integrated approach include introducing design elements to mitigate the lab's size and incorporating systems such as sustainable lighting and temperature control.

"This building is a kind of advanced architectural integration of all the systems of architecture, beginning with the structural frame, the glass panels, the stairways and the glass railings, and the photovoltaic panels," McCoy said. "Each one of those is, in a sense, a contemporary version of a craft such as carving stone. But rather than seeing a sort of labor of the hand, you see the sophisticated, complete integration of all the elements. We have no building on campus that touches this building in that regard -- that sense of total, unified integration."

An improved gateway

After three years of construction, faculty, staff and students began moving into the new modern-style facility in early August and will continue the process throughout the fall. The first upper-level courses will be taught in the new facility in September, with the first full load of classes starting in February. When it is operating at capacity, up to 30 Department of Chemistry faculty members, 30 staff, 250 to 300 graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and research staff, and several hundred undergraduates regularly will use the building.

chemistry outside

The landscape provides a context for the chemistry lab, the largest single academic building on campus excluding Firestone Library. University Architect Ron McCoy credited Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, the landscape architects, with "giving the building just enough space to allow its expression to be appreciated, but also nestling the building in the woodlands."

The exterior façade is composed primarily of high-performance glazing set within an aluminum-framed curtain wall and shaded with cast aluminum sunscreens. Some of the glass is fritted with small ceramic dots to control heat gain. Granite panels are placed within the frame on the north and south façades and along pedestrian colonnades on the east and west sides. At the north and south ends, a 77-foot "braced column" that looks like a ship's mast supports the canopy roof with its photovoltaic panels and marks an entry porch.

The building's location, design and materials were chosen to enhance the area among the trees on the south edge of campus near Washington Road. During the development of the Campus Plan, unveiled in 2008, administrators learned that people now enter campus primarily from the south rather than from the traditional gate to the north off Nassau Street.

Princeton Executive Vice President Mark Burstein said that the new Frick -- along with the recently completed Streicker Bridge for pedestrians over Washington Road and the neuroscience and psychology buildings being constructed on the west side of the road -- are part of an effort to improve this gateway.

"New Frick, Streicker Bridge and the coming psychology and neuroscience complex will provide clear entry, both to the University and to the borough and township on Washington Road," Burstein said. "We wanted to increase the amount of forests to emphasize the relatively natural fringe that's on the campus on the south side around Lake Carnegie, to improve the sustainability of the area, which includes rebuilding the entire stream bed, and to highlight architecture that is both transparent and represents core academic functions of the institution."

The woodlands of Lake Carnegie and the adjacent stream valley have been extended onto the site, and a nature path winds along the west and south sides of the building. Rain gardens and biofiltration areas have been positioned to retain and filter building and site stormwater. The new landscaping replaces a large asphalt parking lot, reducing the impervious surface.

According to McCoy, the landscape also provides a context for the facility, the largest single academic building on campus excluding Firestone Library. "The building now sits much more softly in these woodlands than it would if it was on a green lawn," he said. "Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, the landscape architects, are particularly sensitive to giving the building just enough space to allow its expression to be appreciated, but also nestling the building in the woodlands."

Mike Taylor, senior partner at Hopkins, said the firm was mindful of the laboratory's size due to spatial and mechanical demands during the design process.

"We addressed this by introducing a human scale to the elevations through the inclusion of continuous covered walkways on either side of the building that are part of the general circulation on campus," he said. "These open-sided walkways also allowed us to establish a strong visual connection to the surrounding woodland landscape. From the outside a series of devices, such as the over-sailing entrance canopies, recessed full-height glazed end walls and expressed stair towers, were used to break up the mass of the building."

chemistry streiker

Streicker Bridge, viewed here from Frick, gracefully connects two halves of the University's science neighborhood. In the foreground of this shot is one of two 77-foot "braced columns" that support the canopy roof and mark an entry porch to the chemistry lab.

Complementing the architecture, Streicker Bridge, which opened for pedestrian use earlier this summer after two years of construction, was designed by noted Swiss engineer Christian Menn in collaboration with HNTB, a New York-based architectural firm. Two gracefully arched concrete walking surfaces join over the road, supported by a third, weathering steel arch. The 350-foot span connects two halves of the University's science neighborhood.

"With the seamless integration of the pedestrian walkway into the structure, [Christian] Menn is able to create a unique form for the Streicker Bridge, reducing the steel pipe arch to the minimum structure possible," said Ted Zoli, vice president and technical director of bridges at HNTB. "As the arch both supports the walkway and is stabilized by it, the two parts of the footbridge interact in a particularly elegant and effective manner. As a means of fostering interaction between the sciences and as a gateway to campus, the Streicker Bridge's form serves as an apt metaphor for its function."

The bridge connects the Icahn Laboratory -- home of the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics -- and the future site of the psychology and neuroscience complex on the west side, and on the east side, a pedestrian plaza leading to Frick's front entrance, a new prominent entrance to the Jadwin Hall physics building and Princeton Stadium.

Chemistry on display

The concept for the interior of Frick Chemistry Laboratory was to make a stimulating environment for teaching and research by putting chemistry on display, according to the architects.

"The scientists are now going to be working in this remarkable glass loft, and they're going to have views through the building, but always with a sense of openness," McCoy said. "The way that the sense of openness captures the spirit of collaboration is hugely important."

The atrium -- named Taylor Commons for Edward Taylor, Princeton's A. Barton Hepburn Professor of Organic Chemistry Emeritus -- will include study tables, and lounge and café seating. Suspended from the ceiling is a sculpture consisting of multiple ovoid forms covered in semitransparent white cloth. The artwork, called "Resonance," is by Richmond, Va., artist Kendall Buster, who studied microbiology before pursuing an education in art. It was commissioned specifically for the new building and was inspired by models employed to represent molecular structures.

chemistry stairwell

A total of 216 photovoltaic panels produce solar energy and shield the glass roof over the atrium. Glass covers much of the inside façade of building, and two open curved stairwells have glass railings.

To meet the requirements of Princeton's Sustainability Plan, the photovoltaic panels over the glazed atrium roof convert solar energy into electricity and offer shade by letting in a controlled amount of light. Integrated mechanical systems in the building enable the optimal transfer of cooled and heated air from offices through the atrium into the laboratories, reducing the amount of outside air that must be conditioned to meet the ventilation demands of the labs. Maple-veneered paneling is mounted at ground level and adjacent to bridges spanning the atrium for acoustics.

A sustainable energy monitoring display on one wall will show both investment in energy and energy savings. The lab is the most instrumented building on Princeton's campus, and has devices that will monitor photovoltaic production, stormwater and condensate collection and usage, and the energy consumed by fume hoods in the building.

In the east wing, the first floor will contain introductory and organic teaching labs, accommodating up to 140 students at a time. The upper three floors will incorporate research labs. An important sustainability feature of the latter will be the 200 high-efficiency fume hoods installed at work areas. These are equipped with automatic sash closers that will reduce both air supply and exhaust requirements. The lab systems also will have heat recovery equipment that captures energy from exhaust air.

The rigorous integrated design is intended to support flexible use and revisions required for evolving research needs. James Wallace, senior project manager in Princeton's Office of Design and Construction, said the most challenging aspect of the construction has been tailoring each lab for the faculty member who will use it.

"We started out with generic lab space and have developed detailed individual requirements for the faculty labs once the space was assigned," he said, "That was a big leap. Payette has done a fantastic job with designing the labs to fit individual needs."

'A dream come true'

David MacMillan, chair of the Department of Chemistry, describes moving from the 81-year-old former Frick Lab farther north on Washington Road to the new Frick Chemistry Laboratory as "a dream come true."

Noting that the building's completion coincides with a revitalization of the department and the recruitment of top-tier faculty members, MacMillan said, "In my opinion, this will be one of the best infrastructures for being able to do chemistry. I don't feel there is anything that we're lacking at the moment, and we are only going to keep working on upgrading, improving and maintaining."

chemistry lab

Some 200 high-efficiency fume hoods are installed in the research labs on the upper three floors. These are equipped with automatic sash closers that reduce both air supply and exhaust requirements.

In the west wing, there will be faculty and administrative offices in three interconnecting "pods," arranged by research area. Social spaces between the pods on upper levels are intended as interaction zones for faculty and students. Each floor also will have two conference rooms that will seat 20 to 25 people. The offices are furnished with maple-finished and white office furniture and have blue carpeting, in keeping with the modernist aesthetic.

The senior faculty offices look out over the woodlands and include a private space and an adjacent "group room" for researchers connected by an interior door. Sliding glass doors open onto exterior "balconettes."

Radiators heat the individual offices, and energy-efficient ceiling-mounted "chilled beams" directly cool the room air by passive convection currents. The chilled beams are linked to the room's thermostat, which turns the cooling coil on or off with the temperature control setting within each space. Opening the sliding glass doors also turns off the cooling coil to conserve energy.

The building makes ample use of natural light. In addition, an advanced system uses energy-efficient fluorescents with occupancy and daylight sensors that automatically reduce lighting levels or turn off the lighting when it is not required.

The building also features a "graywater" system, including a 12,000-gallon rainwater collection cistern that collects and recycles stormwater for nonpotable uses.

Below grade on the B level of the building, there is a 260-seat auditorium with the latest audio and video equipment. This room is called Edward C. Taylor Auditorium, also in honor of the retired Princeton faculty member. Taylor's research led to the development of the anti-cancer drug Alimta in cooperation with the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, and Princeton's U.S. patent has yielded royalties that supported the construction of the chemistry building.

Also located on the B level are research functions that require very low vibration conditions, such as dedicated space for laser tables and the nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) equipment lab. The largest NMR equipment will sit on 10-foot-thick monolithic concrete blocks founded on bedrock and isolated by perimeter joints from the building structure.

The NMR suite is visible through a panel of glass to those descending the stairway from the main entrance of the building. A tunnel on the B level will connect Frick with Jadwin Hall.

"This building provides the best view of the world-class science that takes place on this campus," Burstein said.

Work will continue in the near future on the "sciences green," which encompasses the landscape from Ivy Lane south to Jadwin Gymnasium and includes Lewis Library, Fine Tower, McDonnell Hall, Jadwin Hall, Frick Chemistry Laboratory and Princeton Stadium.

The chemistry department is moving from Frick Lab, which was one of the oldest functioning chemistry facilities at an academic institution in the United States and now will be called 20 Washington Road, and Hoyt Lab, built in 1979. Those buildings will remain offline for the immediate future until funds become available for their renovation for use for the humanities, social sciences and engineering.

The chemistry laboratory is named in honor of industrialist and art patron Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919), who was a benefactor of the University. A public dedication is planned for Saturday, April 9.