Lab Design and Furnishings

A New Hub for Neuroscience

Caltech to open Chen Neuroscience Research Building in fall 2020

MaryBeth DiDonna
Rendering of the Chen Neuroscience Research Building.

The California Institute of Technology will soon welcome a new research building, which will serve as its base for neuroscience research.The design of the Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute for Neuroscience incorporates communal lab spaces, as well as centralized work and lounge areas both indoors and outdoors. To foster cross-disciplinary study and collaboration, a pedestrian tunnel to connect the new facility to the nearby Broad Center for the Biological Sciences. This physical connection will also strengthen the figurative connection and partnership between researchers in the two science buildings. to strengthen partnerships between the researchers of both buildings. The Chen Building will serve as the Institute's hub for neuroscience research.

“The need is to support Caltech’s expanding neuroscience research program, replacing old and outdated research laboratories in existing buildings, while providing much needed expansion space to support their research capabilities including a multi-species vivarium facility with associated behavioral suites,” says Sandro A. Bressi, Principal, Science + Technology Studio, Southern California, for SmithGroup. 

The project team includes Hensel Phelps (design-build partner/general contractor); SmithGroup (architecture, laboratory planning, interior design, lighting design, sustainability/LEED); Affiliated Engineers (MEP engineering); Saiful Bouquet (structural engineering); Spurlock (landscape architects); KPFF Consulting Engineers (site civil engineering); The Sextant Group (low voltage); and Colin Gordon Associates (acoustics).

“We are confident we’ll achieve LEED Gold,” says Bressi, of the Chen Building’s sustainability efforts. “Many sustainability initiatives have been included in the project design including variable volume fume hoods with active sash controls, chilled beams, variable speed fans and pumps, energy efficient campus steam and chilled water sources, Bloom fuel cell technology, and many architectural elements built into façade and roofing systems.”

The Chen Building, Caltech's hub for neuroscience research, is expected to open in fall 2020.

The research building will be home to wet, dry and computational research labs, as well as administrative offices and support spaces for the Division of Biology and Biological Engineering. A teaching lab and a lecture hall are also part of the site plan. The building contains two basements.

The build was not without its challenges, but the project team was able to clear the hurdles. “Our project had a structural issue come to light during steel erection which was rectified in short order. The design/build team rallied to overcome both an engineering challenge and what could have been a significant schedule delay,” says Bressi.

The use of multi-level vivaria to accommodate behavioral studies, Bressi says, is a unique feature found in the Chen Building, and something that similar lab buildings can look to as a source of inspiration. “The way in which our multi-story vivaria and its operations are able to efficiently support building-wide behavioral research activities which need to be within close proximity to the laboratory environments,” he says.

Other noteworthy features, Bressi adds, are “the way we foster collaboration between faculty and their research teams through the central ‘nucleus’ located in between the two primary research wings.” He continues, “Our laboratories have the MEP infrastructure to support a wide variety of research activities within either open laboratory environments or within cellular or enclosed and specialized spaces. The institute invested in systems to support a level of flexibility not seen in many buildings like this.”

At a total project cost of $240 million, the three-story, 150,000-square-foot facility plans to open in November or December of 2020.