Date October 17, 2022
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Two accomplished architecture firms selected for Brown’s planned integrated life sciences building

Architects from Deborah Berke Partners and Ballinger will work together with Brown leaders and key stakeholders to design a hub for scientific collaboration and discovery in Providence’s Jewelry District.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Brown University has selected a dynamic, multifaceted architecture team to design its planned integrated life sciences building in Providence’s Jewelry District neighborhood. The building will create new laboratory space for high-impact research that can lead to breakthroughs on pressing health-related issues.

Deborah Berke Partners, a New York City-based practice, and Ballinger, a Philadelphia-based team of architects, engineers, planners and designers, will work in partnership with the University. Together, they’ll employ their collective talents, skills and experiences toward designing a building that enables cutting-edge, collaborative life sciences research while helping to further invigorate the neighborhood. 

A vote by the Corporation of Brown University during its fall meetings in October approved the selection of the architecture team, marking an important next step toward realizing Brown’s long-held vision to create state-of-the art research space for the life sciences in proximity to its Warren Alpert Medical School, School of Public Health, School of Engineering and affiliated hospital partners.

University Architect Craig Barton, who managed the selection process, said the committee members who recommended the two-firm design team were impressed with the firms’ portfolios as well as their shared focus on working together and with a wide range of stakeholders.

“This unique collaboration of Deborah Berke Partners and Ballinger will bring to the project a world-class approach to academic building design as well as exceptional technical skills for creating laboratory and science spaces,” Barton said. “That’s an incredibly powerful combination, and we’re pleased to have both partners aboard as we begin the process to turn our vision for this integrated life sciences building into an active project.”

Shared values, shared vision

After announcing its plans for the building in June 2022, Brown initially reviewed a large pool of interested architecture firms and narrowed to a list of 14 that contributed proposals. With input from multiple stakeholders, the selection committee moved forward with seven firms, Barton said, and ultimately interviewed four finalists.

Among the most important factors, Barton said, were identifying design teams who had developed academic research facility projects, particularly in the life sciences. Especially important was experience working in urban environments where integration with existing neighborhoods is essential, as well as high-level design integrity, standout skills in collaboration with a wide variety of community members, and a strong commitment to sustainable design practices.

Both Deborah Berke Partners and Ballinger have extensive experience in working with academic institutions on complex, large-scale projects, and have also partnered individually with Brown, Barton said.

Deborah Berke Partners is leading the design of Brown’s under-construction Brook Street residence hall project, which will create an innovative, campus-based residential experience for third- and fourth-year undergraduates.

“Not only does Deborah Berke Partners bring great skills as designers of urban projects, but they also have a nuanced understanding of how to work with an academic institution in which there are multiple internal and external stakeholders whose perspectives are essential in the effort to develop a complex building project,” said Barton, a Class of 1978 Brown graduate.

Ballinger has considerable expertise designing buildings home to research labs, he noted — including Brown’s Sidney E. Frank Hall for the Life Sciences, a LEED silver-certified building that offers space for research in neuroscience, molecular and cellular biology, and biochemistry. Opened in 2006, Barton said the project has endured remarkably well, with labs that have needed no substantive renovation or retrofitting to date. 

For Ballinger and Deborah Berke Partners, the project at Brown will not be their first collaboration — the firms are currently partnering on the design of a large environmentally sustainable science and engineering building at Yale University. Brown’s selection committee assessed the firms’ approach to communication and collaboration on the Yale project, and felt that it positioned them well to work together at Brown.

Designing for the science of the future

As envisioned, the integrated life sciences building will provide state-of-the-art laboratory space for researchers in biology, medicine, brain science, bioengineering, public health and other disciplines to work together on pressing health-related issues. Dr. Mukesh K. Jain, dean of medicine and biological sciences, said creating a new facility in the Jewelry District, already home to the Warren Alpert Medical School and other life sciences spaces, would provide much-needed space for existing research centers to grow and for new ones to flourish.

“It's exciting to reach this next milestone for the integrated life sciences building,” Jain said. “Brown’s research community continues its robust growth, and this new facility will enable cutting-edge science that will ultimately lead to patient therapies and interventions.”

Because of the nature of how scientific research is conducted in laboratories, Barton said that the architects must think not only about the building’s initial occupants, but also those who will use it in the future. That forward-thinking flexibility is part of Ballinger’s approach, said Terry Steelman, senior principal at the firm and one of the leads on Brown’s ILSB project.

“We aim to satisfy the work needs of the initial occupants and the current science but not to be so specific and customized that the space can’t evolve as science — and scientists — change,” said Steelman, who played a lead role in the design of Sidney E. Frank Hall for the Life Sciences.

“These buildings have a long lifespan and accommodate a wide range of occupants, in some cases for the short-term,” Steelman said. “So much will change over the lifespan of the building. When we designed Sidney Frank Hall, for example, gene therapy was still building momentum, and now it’s a common aspect of academic research. Who knows what amazing new discoveries will take place at the Brown integrated life sciences building? We have to make sure the space can accommodate that research.”

Steelman cited the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Colket Translational Research Building at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia as examples of large-scale Ballinger projects that were designed for interdisciplinary teams and the changing needs of scientists and researchers over time.

The ILSB must also be able to integrate into an evolving neighborhood like the Jewelry District, which has seen significant growth in activity in recent years as Brown and private developers have turned empty or abandoned spaces into new projects. That’s something Deborah Berke Partners excels at, said Noah Biklen, a Brown Class of 1997 graduate who will lead the ILSB project design team. 

“At Deborah Berke Partners, we design spaces for collaboration and community, places where great things happen,” Biklen said. “We also bring humanist values to our work. We bring a lot of attention to developing the character of a building and placing it in context.”

Citing Brown’s pledge to reduce campus greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2040, Biklen said the firms will work closely with the University to design a highly sustainable science building.

“As a team with Ballinger and Brown, we’re excited to design an integrated life sciences building that serves world-changing researchers as well as the people of the surrounding community,” Biklen said. 

With the selection of the architecture team, project leaders at Brown, Ballinger and Deborah Berke Partners will now launch an extensive programming phase to assess factors ranging from space needs and site requirements to conceptual design and projected scale and scope, as well as estimated project costs and funding sources. That process will convene both internal and external stakeholders. And while a target timeline for the full project will emerge during planning, the University estimates construction completion in the range of four to five years.