Lincoln Laboratory seeks inventive solutions for a new facility
MIT architecture students take on the challenge of designing a modern laboratory
MIT Lincoln Laboratory is exploring design ideas for a modern research facility that could be added to its site in Lexington. What better place to look for innovative concepts than the MIT School of Architecture and Planning? In a collaboration with a fall-semester core studio, 35 students in the master's in architecture program developed models that applied creativity to the constraints imposed by the Laboratory's technical, cultural, and programmatic needs.
In 1951 when ground was broken for the first buildings of Lincoln Laboratory, the design for all five structures was a basic, efficient, rectangular layout with offices and laboratory spaces branching off a long corridor running down the center of each of the floors. These boxy buildings, modified over the years to meet changing programmatic needs, are still in use. In the 1990s, two newer buildings, the state-of-the-art Microelectronics Laboratory and the modern South Laboratory, expanded the footprint and more importantly the capabilities of Lincoln Laboratory. Now, a growing portfolio of fabrication engineering, rapid prototyping, and advanced microelectronics work is impelling plans for another facility.
Michael Menadue, the manager of Lincoln Laboratory's Capital Projects Office, says there are a number of challenges in this design project. "The new lab has to coexist with the existing buildings and systems, which include South Lab and Old Town [the original 1950s buildings]. Different types of program work will be ongoing simultaneously in the new lab, each with different environmental and structural needs. And, while the current trend is toward labs to be built for collaboration with lots open spaces and glass walls, the nature of our program work may not allow for this type of layout, so we need to be creative in finding collaborative work areas."
Some students looked at creating a flexible infrastructural approach to the building through a modular systems approach; others took on the mission of flexibility and adaptability by making the building itself reconfigurable. — Prof. Meejin Yoon
Menadue, his staff, and management from Engineering and Advanced Technology, the divisions that would be the prime occupants of the new building, provided the students with the parameters for the design. The students faced demanding requirements: the multiple engineering tasks the building must support, the requisite space needs for rapidly prototyping payloads and systems, and the accommodations for working on programs for national security. In addition, they were asked to factor in the desire for an environment that fosters collaboration and that has the flexibility to evolve in the future to adapt to new projects and technologies.
Professor J. Meejin Yoon, who led the studio along with Professor Sheila Kennedy and Associate Professor Andrew Scott, says designing for both specificity and flexibility was complicated. "Among the many design challenges presented by Lincoln Lab's needs, one issue the students found most compelling was how to bring the highly specific and different program elements of two divisions together in a way that would create more synergy."
A design charrette
The partnership between the architectural studio and Lincoln Laboratory was envisioned as a design charrette, a forum for discussing concepts. No student model was expected to result in a blueprint for a new building. "This was a purely academic exercise to come up with ideas ranging from the highly theoretical to the practical," explains Jeremy Munn, a senior facilities planner in the Capital Projects Office. "We were interested in innovative ways to provide flexibility in the lab and office spaces for future growth or shrinkage and changing usage. The students may see ways to site buildings or ways to link office spaces to lab spaces that we haven't thought of."
During the semester, preliminary design reviews with the Lincoln Laboratory "clients" allowed students to discover why initial ideas may be infeasible or how modifications to concepts may improve the design. "The designs evolved based on the interactions with us," says Munn. "The reviews gave students insight into the pragmatic challenges of creating a laboratory."
One of the dynamics that architects take into account when designing a building is how the configuration of interior spaces influences the culture of the organization working in them. For example, Rick Wartzman, executive director of the Drucker Institute at Claremont Graduate University, credits the "no walls" office with improving communication and kindling innovation. Hardo Braun and Dieter Grömling, in Research and Technology Buildings: A Design Manual, say that teamwork is facilitated by having offices and labs in proximity to each other.
The architecture students considered these dynamics in their floor plans. Open areas adjacent to high bays and clean rooms with glass walls are intended to create an atmosphere of shared goals as employees can see what colleagues do. Juxtaposing office space with labs is meant to reduce the compartmentalization of work. Offices do not have to be boxes along long stretches of corridors.
From the 35 designs submitted as course projects, the studio instructors and the reviewers from Lincoln Laboratory chose 13 interesting concepts for a roundtable presentation in February. The roundtable was an opportunity for the architecture students to explain the thinking behind their concepts, to show how their buildings "worked." And, this forum gave the Laboratory attendees ideas to weigh in planning the new facility.
Some of the designs were developed explicitly to provide great flexibility to change with evolving needs. "Some students looked at creating a flexible infrastructural approach to the building through a modular systems approach; others took on the mission of flexibility and adaptability by making the building itself reconfigurable," says Yoon.
Dr. Robert Shin, head of the Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) and Tactical Systems Division, said that one question prompted by the designs is "How much flexibility in infrastructure do we want to include up front?" He was also intrigued by the fresh look the students took "without being tied to our organizational structure, but looking at the design from a functional perspective."
For Lincoln Laboratory, a valuable outcome of the studio was the array of possibilities presented by the models. "Some of the concepts that the students came up with for bringing light into lab spaces, for encouraging collaboration and interaction, for changing spaces from one use to another, and for organizing our different functions are exciting and innovative and will be great to share with our architects as we move forward," says Dr. Eliahu Niewood, head of the Engineering Division.
"Some of the students looked to our future by looking at our history," says Munn. "They noted that our history is one of continual growth. This led to designs for towers that allow for more office and lab spaces on the existing land."
Participating in the roundtable were the studio instructors and representatives from Lincoln Laboratory. Shin, Niewood, and Dr. Craig Keast, associate head of the Advanced Technology Division, represented division management; Menadue, Munn, Gretchen McGill, and Kriss Pettersen represented the Capital Projects Office, which is responsible for facility master planning; Dr. George Turner, leader of the Electro-optical Materials and Devices Group, contributed his reactions as a potential occupant of the new facility; and Andrea Brennen, a specialist in the Wideband Tactical Networking Group, added her expertise as a graduate of the MIT School of Architecture.
"This collaboration turned out exactly the way we hoped," says Munn. "The Laboratory was able to tap into the creativity of the MIT students and learned from their ideas. The students were challenged with a project of a much larger scale than is usual in studios."
Some of the architecture students are tentatively slated to present their concepts for a modern laboratory at a "design fair" in Lincoln Laboratory's cafeteria in late April.
Posted April 2012
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