California Institute of Technology
The Charles C. Gates and Franklin Thomas Laboratory on the campus of California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, California houses the Department of Mechanical and Civil Engineering. The renovation ushers in modernization while honoring the lab’s storied past and the people who helped advance engineering at Caltech. The original structure was completed at the close of World War II, when human spaceflight was still years in the future and the idea of nanotechnology had not even been conceived. The updated Gates-Thomas Laboratory provides new laboratories and light-filled spaces where scholars, faculty and students can collaborate and engage in experimental and computational work undreamed of when the building opened its doors.
The 54,300-SF facility was challenged with substandard infrastructure unable to support the robust research taking place. The closed-in institutional look and feel of the building failed to convey the prestige of the Engineering Department and provided few opportunities for interaction. The building faces Olive Walk, a lovely tree lined park, to the South and a landscaped courtyard to the north. The architect's approach sought to connect the courtyard “garden” to Thomas-Gates Laboratory, to open the building up both physically and symbolically.
The architect’s solution introduces a two-story entry anchored by a glass-enclosed stair connecting the upper floors. The stair is deliberately located at the building’s midpoint to draw inhabitants up and through the building in a visible and dynamic fashion. A wall graphic representing the “Poincare Section of a Duffing Oscillator”, lines the stair. The floor at the lobby features an etching illustrating the year and latitude of major earthquakes from 1949 to 2011. The glass enclosed 88-seat auditorium extends beyond the original footprint. Transparent as possible while maintaining functionality, the space allows the community to observe the important science being discussed and taught. The auditorium is planned to host guest lecturers as well as regularly scheduled classes. A translucent fabric screen with images of the current faculty member’s bookshelves can be drawn to encourage "reluctant" students to the front of the room.
Strategically located at the second floor landing, the lounge is the heart of the department. The gathering space encourages collaboration and conversation beyond the research labs and classrooms. It is open and spacious, with views to both Olive Walk and the garden to the north. The new seminar room, with direct access to the roof terrace, can serve as an extension of the lounge during events. The faculty office "neighborhoods" are connected by a generous corridor with clerestory windows and integrated collaboration tables.
Throughout the project, the architect sought opportunities to expose and retain as much of the existing concrete frame structure as possible. Corridor ceilings are exposed due to constrained floor to floor heights and a desire to reveal the “workings” of the building systems.
Graduate and post-doctoral candidates spaces allow for group study and collaboration as well as quiet research.
Much of the engineering research happened in computer models rather than the lab which allowed the program to provide a 100 kW High Power Computing Center. The heat load for the building will be fed with the excess heat off of the hot aisle in the HPC.
- To encourage interaction with the environment and to promote outdoor physical activities, more than 42% of the total site area is designed as physically accessible open space–44% of this open space is vegetated;
- To mitigate heat island effect and minimize the effect on microclimate, paving material with a solar reflectance (SR) value of 0.35 and high-reflectance roofing materials were utilized throughout the project;
- Ultra-low-flow plumbing fixtures were installed to help reduce water consumption by over 35%, saving approximately 46,808 gal/year;
- Drought-tolerant and native landscaping with drip irrigation and weather-based controllers resulted in a 71% reduction in outdoor potable water use;
- Energy saving measures were incorporated to perform 53.6% better than T24 with a designed EUI of 98 kBtu/sf;
- The Caltech campus has 8 solar photovoltaic arrays that are capable of producing 1.3 MW of electricity. Approximately 207,000 kWh of the electricity produced has been dedicated to the Thomas Laboratory;
- The project uses low emitting adhesives, sealants, paints, coatings, flooring systems, and composite wood products, ceilings and wall systems to reduce the exposure of building occupants to high VOC (volatile organic compounds) content;
- The labs have lighting controls for 100% of all individually occupied workstations and multioccupant spaces to promote worker productivity, comfort, and well-being;
- Selected interior finishes support optimal surface reflectance and illuminance, making spaces brighter with less overhead lighting
This project is certified LEED-Gold v4.