Chemistry and the rest of the science departments at Baylor University have traditionally been spread among a handful of buildings across its Waco, Texas, campus. But with the hope of increasing multidisciplinary collaboration among faculty members by housing them alongside one another, Baylor recently moved all of its science departments under one roof.
Completed in May and designed by HarleyEllis Architects of Detroit, Baylor's 500,000-sq-ft brick-and-glass science building carried a price tag of $103 million and is the largest building the university has ever built. Baylor's departments of chemistry and biochemistry, biology, environmental studies, geology, mathematics, physics, psychology and neuroscience, and statistical science now call the building home.
Each department's faculty members are clustered together, with a handful of interdisciplinary centers scattered in between, including one that focuses on drug discovery and another that centers on molecular biosciences. "The chemistry faculty wanted to be close together but also near departments they collaborate with," says Baylor chemistry professor Marianna A. Busch, who spearheaded the department's design team. She predicts that interdepartmental collaboration will increase rapidly now that all the sciences share a home and notes that connections are already being made.
Baylor's experiment would be difficult to replicate at a large state school like Pennsylvania State University, where the science departments are much larger. But fostering multidisciplinary collaboration is just as important to Penn State, as evidenced by its new chemistry and life sciences buildings, which are physically connected by a glass-enclosed bridge.
"The walls between departments are low at Penn State," remarked Penn State President Graham B. Spanier when the chemistry and life sciences buildings were dedicated in September. "And we are trying to make them lower all the time," he added, pointing to the physical link between the two buildings.
"We hope that the bridge between chemistry and life sciences will help increase collaborations between researchers in the two disciplines," says Penn State chemistry professor Barbara J. Garrison, who chaired the program and design committee for the new chemistry building.
THE SPACIOUS glass-enclosed bridge connecting the two buildings is filled with comfy couches and natural light. It's a perfect place for faculty and students from the various disciplines housed in the new space--chemistry on one side and developmental biology, neuroscience, plant biology, and toxicology and carcinogenesis on the other--to meet, hang out, and share ideas over a cup of coffee and a sandwich from the café tucked into one corner.
Philadelphia-based Bower, Lewis & Thrower Architects teamed up with Boston-based architecture firm Payette Associates to design the chemistry and life sciences buildings at Penn State. The $52.5 million, six-story chemistry building is L-shaped, with one wing dedicated to synthetic and biological chemists and the other for those with an analytical or physical bent.
The push toward fostering multidisciplinarity in new building construction, though, has not triggered the extinction of the traditional, stand-alone chemistry building. Some universities have decided to tackle the multidisciplinary goal by clustering science buildings in close proximity on campus.
The University of California, Riverside, is putting the finishing touches on a $40 million state-of-the-art home for its chemistry department. Designed by Los Angeles-based architecture firm Hammel, Green & Abrahamson (HGA) and Boston-based Kallman, McKinnell & Wood Architects, the four-story brick-and-glass chemistry building is adjacent to the science library and close to the physics and geology buildings. UC Riverside plans to erect a second major science building right next door.
Constructing a building offers opportunities to foster collaboration within a chemistry department, too. Each of these buildings incorporates spaces meant to get chemistry grad students, postdocs, and faculty to bump into each other and chat.
"Everyone wants to create spaces that foster spontaneous interaction" in new lab buildings, notes architect Michael F. Ross of HGA. "But you can't waste space," he adds, which has driven lab planners to be highly efficient when designing such spaces.
Ross's team tucked seating areas into sunny windows at the ends of each hallway in UC Riverside's new chemistry building. Whiteboards and benches are placed on each landing of the building's central stairwell, made more inviting thanks to natural light from the rooftop skylight. Small gathering areas with comfortable chairs and benches are tucked into nooks and crannies around both Penn State's chemistry building and Baylor's science building.
In addition, each of these projects incorporates inviting places for students and faculty to gather for lunch or coffee: An airy central atrium filled with tables and chairs and wireless Internet access at Baylor; glass-walled lunchrooms and the glass bridge at Penn State; and a sunny, year-round courtyard at UC Riverside coax students and faculty out of their labs to share lunch, coffee, and maybe a great idea.