The architectural design of the buildings and the laboratories helps achieve Janelia's central objectives—collaboration and flexibility. Every element, from the sweeping laboratory building—organized around curving glass corridors punctuated by soaring glass-enclosed staircases—to the 96-room guest house and adjacent housing village, is intended to foster collaboration.
Janelia offers an array of personal services and amenities to create a collegial environment for groundbreaking, interdisciplinary research. Whether working in the lab or relaxing in the pub, staff and visitors alike experience an atmosphere that encourages teamwork and innovation.
HHMI acquired the Janelia property in 2000. In 2004, the Institute purchased Selden Island, an adjacent 400-acre property, bringing the total size of the campus to 689 acres. The property is characterized by thick forests and a Georgian manor house (listed on the National Register of Historic Places) that sits atop a gentle slope that descends to the river at the northern boundary.
The campus design was a collaborative effort led by internationally acclaimed architect Rafael Viñoly and Robert H. McGhee, Institute architect and senior facilities officer at HHMI, with substantial input from Janelia, Executive Director, Gerald Rubin. In a unique collaboration between architect and client, McGhee and Rubin met weekly with Viñoly's team over a two-year period to discuss, critique and refine the design of all aspects of the buildings and campus. (McGhee left HHMI in 2007 to join the faculty of the School of Architecture at Rice University.)
Viñoly, who heads the architectural firm Rafael Viñoly Architects, PC, which is headquartered in New York City, was selected from a slate of distinguished architects during an architectural competition organized by McGhee at HHMI in 2001. Construction of the building was completed with Turner Construction, Inc., as the contractor; Jacobs Facilities, Inc., as the project manager; and the Mark Winkler Company as the owner's representative.
Viñoly’s design vision emphasized the notion of integrating the building entirely into the landscape. When complete, Viñoly felt the site should remain essentially “untouched.” Such an approach, Viñoly argued, would actually enhance the view of nature. The design concept that HHMI ultimately chose was not Viñoly’s first vision for the site. He initially proposed imposing a grid on the landscape, defined by a series of interlocking buildings. When McGhee and HHMI told Viñoly that the grid concept fell short of what the Institute envisioned, he radically changed his thinking.
He emerged with a new idea to blend the buildings into the natural surroundings of the site. Viñoly’s plan put most of the program in a single structure, which he called the Landscape Building, by constructing a stair-stepped building into the hillside and covering the roofs with plantings.
Viñoly proposed a three-story structure with two upper lab floors and a meeting and service floor below. The lab floors were offset, allowing for terraces outside lab space on both floors. Office blocks were located on the terraced roofs. Stairs traversed the building, connecting the floors in a straight run and thus providing excellent functional and visual floor connections. The public space was located on the ground floor, with loft high-bay research space behind. Parking was located behind the building but below the revised grade.
The interior of the research building features highly flexible laboratory space that can be adapted easily to meet changing research needs. Today, the centerpiece of the campus is the 900-foot-long Landscape Building, which if stood on end would equal the height of an 85-story building. But its elongated, gently undulating design conforms to the site's existing topography, and the building is literally built into the gentle slope in the form of three descending planted terraces.
As a result, if one stands behind the Landscape Building, near the Georgian manor house, one has a clear, unobstructed view across the Potomac River into the verdant Maryland countryside. The terraces of the Landscape Building become an indistinguishable part of the sloping meadow below.
For more information about the philosophy that guided design of the campus, download a copy of the 2003 Janelia Farm Program Development Report (PDF, 11.6 MB).
The design is guided by four principles:
- Understand the researchers' needs versus their preferences
- Focus the planning effort on what will or could happen versus what is happening today
- Keep work spaces standardized and rational
- Make the work spaces adaptable over time to accommodate changes in research
The Landscape Building is some 900 feet long and 270 feet deep at the ground floor. In spite of its size, the building blends into the surrounding site. It is stepped up the hill, giving each floor access to landscaped outdoor spaces. The ground floor has meeting, food service, administrative, service, and vibration- and height-sensitive support spaces. The two upper floors are devoted to research space. Major stairs are located at three points along the building length, and other stairs are at the ends of the structure. Horizontal public circulation generally occurs at the building exterior, and service circulation is located inboard.
The primary function of the Landscape Building is to support the research enterprise. The laboratory floors have similar plans, with a clear organization of office, lab, support, and interaction spaces. The building corridor is at the exterior of the building. The office clusters are on the outside of the corridor, and lab and support space are on the inside of the corridor.
Office Cluster and Interaction Spaces
Each office cluster has six offices organized around a center workspace with an adjacent conference room. The office clusters house several research groups, and the occupancy of the office clusters can be increased or decreased by changing the furnishings. The separation of the offices from the labs allows them to have a simpler construction and operable windows.
The office clusters are located as close as possible to the lab spaces without being located in the laboratory zone, offering a very close relationship between the offices and the lab spaces. The entry to the office clusters has doors to the landscaped rooftop courts. Pantry or copy/mail spaces are located across the corridor from the office clusters and serve as common work and gathering places. These spaces are also adjacent to the lab entries.
Open Laboratory Design
The lab spaces are predominately eight modules wide with removable bench work systems in the center and fixed sinks and fume hoods on the inside wall. Labs with smaller numbers of modules are located near the stairs and at the ends of the building. The island lab benches are flexible and removable. All the service functions—electrical, communications, and vacuum—are accessible from floor-mounted bollards. A laboratory could be reconfigured from one function to another in a matter of hours and without the need for plumbers, carpenters, or electricians.
Support Space and Equipment Corridor
The support zone is directly behind the lab spaces. It is 22 feet deep, allowing it to be divided in half if needed. The blocks of support space are approximately 50 feet long and are separated by cross-corridors that give access to the 9-foot-wide equipment and service corridor behind the support zone. The support zone is highly serviced and highly flexible. It can accommodate a wide variety of lab equipment or specialized needs.
The second floor has additional support space, including the Vivarium, holding and procedure rooms, and large open lab/support space, located behind the equipment corridor. This arrangement allows some users direct access to functions that would be remotely located in a more traditional building. The third floor has parking located behind the equipment corridor. Other more unusual support space is located on the ground floor with direct access to the loading dock. This space has 20-foot-high ceilings and is less subject to vibration.
The Landscape Building is one of the largest examples in the U.S. of what architects call structurally glazed systems, a technique that supports exceptionally large sheets of glass windows. The Landscape Building’s infrastructure, a hybrid of steel frame and reinforced concrete, was designed to mitigate floor vibration—a necessary standard for some lab research.
After two years of planning and design, construction of Janelia broke ground in May of 2003. The campus design was a collaborative effort led by architect Rafael Viñoly and Robert H. McGhee, who was at the time HHMI's institute architect and senior facilities officer. McGhee and Janelia director Gerald Rubin met weekly with Viñoly's team over a two-year period to discuss, critique, and refine the design of all aspects of the buildings and campus.
Construction of the Landscape Building was completed in 2006 with Turner Construction, Inc., as the contractor; Jacobs Facilities, Inc., as the project manager; and the Mark Winkler Company as the owner's representative.
For more information on the design and construction of Janelia, read these stories on hhmi.org:
"Janelia Farm," HHMI Bulletin, July 2001
"Bringing the Sciences Together: The Models for Janelia Farm," HHMI Bulletin, June 2003