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Project Profile: ASU Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Building 7 (ISTB7)

The building takes an interdisciplinary approach to knowledge generation and leading-edge research

MaryBeth DiDonna

MaryBeth DiDonna is managing editor, events for Lab Manager. She organizes and moderates the webinars and virtual conferences for Lab Manager as well as other LMG brands, enabling industry...

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ASU Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Building 7 will include classrooms and a conference center with a 389-seat presentation hall. 
Rendering by Architekton | Grimshaw, courtesy Buro Happold

Facility name: ASU Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Building 7 (ISTB7), Tempe, Arizona
Size: 281,000 gross sq. ft.
Cost: $192 million
Project team: Architekton & Grimshaw (architect); Buro Happold (structural engineering, MEP engineering, lighting design, energy modelling consulting, facades/envelope consulting); Research Facilities Design (RFD) (lab design); McCarthy Building Companies, Inc. (CM)
 Completion date: December 2021

Lab Manager talks with Stephen Curtis, P.E., principal and regional discipline leader for Buro Happold’s New York structures team, about this project. 

Q: What was the need for this facility? Is it replacing an outdated existing facility or accommodating new research/ a new program?
 Envisioned as an opportunity for public outreach for the research community at Arizona State University (ASU) to showcase how their research is changing the world we share, the Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Building 7 (ISTB7) will serve as a new gateway to the Tempe campus at the southwest corner of University Drive and Rural Road. ISTB7 will be a destination for visitors from all over the world.

Approximately 281,000 square feet overall, the high-performance research facility is designed to foster an interdisciplinary approach to knowledge generation and leading-edge research, including innovative endeavors focusing on sustainable food, water, and energy. In addition to public outreach and exhibit spaces, ISTB7 will house the Global Futures Laboratory, the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, the Rob and Melani Walton Sustainability Solutions Service, the School of Sustainability, and the Institute of Human Origins. The complex will also include classrooms and a conference center with a 389-seat presentation hall.

ISTB7 will also feature research labs for biological sciences, engineering, life sciences, and sustainability. Dry lab space may include computing, cyber-security, engineering design and fabrication, and robotics. 

Q: What kinds of sustainability initiatives have been included in the design plan? Is the facility pursuing LEED certification or something similar?
 The building is designed to meet specifications for LEED-NC Gold at a minimum, with expectations of achieving Platinum-level certification. The project team developed strategies and interventions for pursuing goals in: 

  • Planetary Management
  • Building massing and facades
  • Building technology
  • Experimentation and innovation
  • Health and wellness
  • Carbon output
All vertical circulation is located facing the interior courtyard, the location of the Exhibit Lab Atrium Biome, or ELAB, one of the building’s most unique and exciting components.

Q: Is there anything particularly unique or groundbreaking about your facility or the design plan?
 In a first for construction technology in Arizona, Buro Happold’s engineers worked with the design team to introduce voided slab technology: the BubbleDeck proprietary system uses hollow plastic balls to create voids inside concrete slabs, making the building floors thinner, lighter, and less expensive to construct than those formed from conventional slabs. This approach also means that other structural members can be reduced in size and mass as well. 

The design for ISTB7 includes specific strategies to support planned and casual collaboration among tenants and visitors. All vertical circulation is located facing the interior courtyard, the location of the Exhibit Lab Atrium Biome, or ELAB, one of the building’s most unique and exciting components. Three feature staircases will cantilever in different directions from reinforced concrete stem walls, and a hung walkway provides a bridge over the existing canal. These circulation features in the ELAB space foster interaction at different levels. 

Formal interaction spaces such as conference rooms and break-out spaces are distributed along the perimeter of the ELAB to encourage their use by all building occupants. ISTB7’s programming is organized primarily to engage the greater urban context, integrate existing public and private circulation paths, and manage the energy performance of key spaces. The organization of ISTB7 laboratory spaces is based on modular planning principles to provide maximum flexibility and allow for future modifications for specific research requirements over the life of the building.

Located on a triangular site bounded by major streets and the regional light rail, ISTB7’s design is informed by this unique geometry. The passive solar shading techniques realized in the building’s massing are inspired by ancient indigenous dwellings of the southwest United States, oriented to provide a shade network during the summer months while allowing an increase in southern light into the ELAB courtyard during the winter. The elevated south wing of the building, supported by columns up to 45 feet tall, celebrates the existing canal below and the history of the irrigation infrastructure built by the Hohokam people. 

Q: What sorts of challenges did you encounter during the design/build process, and how did you overcome them?
 In the design we set aggressive goals for reducing carbon, focusing on the contribution of concrete and cement. We recognized early on that lowering the overall cement content would be key as we strove to achieve a much lower embodied carbon total. Of course, different concrete applications bring different demands and requirements. For example, the performance of some exposed concrete features would suffer with high levels of cement replacement. 

In response, we targeted other elements of the building in order to achieve our goals, using voided slab technology and other solutions to further reduce the embodied carbon associated with concrete and cement volumes by up to 35 percent over traditional building methods. 

Challenges in the construction phase primarily centered around working with the contractor team and subtrades on the voided slab technology and the unique concrete mixes, both of which are at the cutting edge of construction technique in the local market. Happily, our collaborators embraced this challenge fully and with confidence. The other major challenge was a result of the pandemic: virtual site visits. Our team performed all engineering site observations virtually, and successfully.

Q: If a similar facility or program were to look at your lab for inspiration, what do you think they will take away as an example of what they should also implement in their own lab?
 At Buro Happold we strive to reduce embodied carbon through efficient design, demanding high cement replacement in the concrete on our projects and leveraging our global experience with design innovation and emerging technology like Bubbledeck. Institutions of higher education pursuing campus-wide sustainability goals will see ISTB7 as not just a green building project but also as a public demonstration that communicates clearly those goals and how they can be achieved, securing a position for the university as a leader.