Located within MIT’s campus, the new building for Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research seeks to engage the university and the community’s academic capital for its research mission. The design for Novartis presents a spatially compelling and pragmatic approach to NIBR’s programmatic requirements, environmental criteria and the surrounding context while demonstrating a thoughtful aesthetic sensitivity for the new Cambridge campus.
The best science depends on shared discovery as much as on the tools and spaces for personal inquiry. The Novartis building is designed as an incubator for collaboration within a state-of-the-art research environment. Through strategic use of light, temperature, acoustics and circulation, we were able to promote exchange amongst the building’s research community.
Counter to an introverted lab model, the new facility promotes engagement both within the lab and throughout its ‘social spaces’. Acknowledging that there are a variety of modes of engagement for research, the design promotes a diverse range of work and study types within the building, from introverted individual study ‘nooks’ to extroverted communal spaces to encourage spontaneous encounters.
Environmental controls and daylight optimization were carefully studied in the design. The building incorporates two innovative louver systems on its facade; one of glass (exterior) and one of wood (interior) to maximize daylight and minimize glare and heat gain. The interior environment incorporates natural materials to be warm and inviting. A high level of scrutiny was given to the acoustic features to create an optimum atmosphere for focused research. The project has been awarded LEED Gold.
Effective circulation and communication between labs play a significant role in the program concept. Social realms are located at the south and away from the research spaces in order for separation of the ‘lab coat on’ and the ‘lab coat off’ areas to effectively facilitate efficient circulation at each individual floor. Within the lab, broad sightlines and a modular furniture system transform a siloed research space into a flexible platform for collective investigation. Connective stairs within the lab spaces also allow for ‘lab coat on’ communication.
To promote overall building interaction and connectivity, a dynamic ‘cascading’ stair joins all the building’s social spaces together within a daylight-filled atrium; a vibrant set of spaces facilitating chance encounters. These social spaces are stratified from floor to floor, alternating between ‘extrovert’ and ‘introvert’ floors, with the understanding that ‘research’ is a very personal experience. This approach creates a variety of inviting spaces that lend themselves to collaboration as individuals are able to both share a cup of coffee with fellow employees or conduct collective research. The decentralized distribution of public spaces also creates unique identities on each level with the cascading stair promoting activity and interaction between the floors. Labs were designed along the building’s perimeter to promote daylighting while the noisiest lab-support areas with higher exhaust requirements are at the centers of the floor plate where natural light is unnecessary.
In addition to the building itself, our client challenged us to investigate the possibility that innovations in science might also spring from innovations in the casework systems that support research and discovery. Our team developed the Innovative Lab Design 2.0 (ILD2.0) system as a kit of parts that users and facilities managers could deploy in a variety of ways to suit the changing needs of the contemporary laboratory and the preferences of individuals and research teams. The ILD2.0 system combined a plug-and-play functionality, mobile storage and an elegant materials palette that worked to open the lab, encouraging better communication and visibility. By enabling clear lines or sight and easy reconfigurability ILD aims to enhance workflow, making it more efficient and flexible; enabling the best possible discoveries in the research environment. Whereas the traditional lab environment often promotes siloed work cloisters, the ILD2.0 system sought to capture the client’s broader ambition to orient the research process towards a vision of a community built on openness and shared exploration.
Toshiko Mori, principal of Toshiko Mori Architect
Robert P. Hubbard Professor in the Practice of Architecture, Harvard GSD
2018 Architectural Digest’s AD100 (2014, 2016, 2017)
2018 Maine in America Award, Farnsworth Art Museum
2017 Certificate of Excellence, Africa Architecture Awards
2017 American Institute of Architects Honor Award
2016 Tau Sigma Delta National Honor Society Gold Medal
2018 “Inscriptions”– Harvard GSD, Cambridge, MA
2017 Chicago Architecture Biennial, Chicago, IL
2017 “OnSite: Toshiko Mori” – OMI Intl. Arts Center, Ghent, NY
2015 “Dialogue in Detail: Sarasota” – Center for Architecture Sarasota, Sarasota, FL
2015 “Afrika”– Louisiana Museum, Humlebæk, Denmark
2014 Office US – Venice Biennale, Venice, Italy
2016 - present Watson Institute for Intl. and Public Affairs – Providence, RI
2016 Buffalo Botanical Gardens Master Plan -Buffalo, NY
2016 Center for Maine Contemporary Art - Rockland, ME