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Sanjay Gangal
Sanjay Gangal
Sanjay Gangal is the President of IBSystems, the parent company of AECCafe.com, MCADCafe, EDACafe.Com, GISCafe.Com, and ShareCG.Com.

New Engineering Research, Testing and Education bldg. at University of Alabama in USA by Lord, Aeck & Sargent (LAS)

 
November 8th, 2012 by Sanjay Gangal

Article Source: Lord, Aeck & Sargent (LAS)

As laboratory architect for the University of Alabama’s (UA) newest building on a growing Science and Engineering Complex, architecture firm Lord, Aeck & Sargent(LAS) was faced with a challenge: program and design 85 highly diverse laboratory spaces in a structure that had to fit within the footprint and site prescribed by a master plan.

The 3,400-square-foot electromechanical systems lab at the University of Alabama’s South Engineering Research Center (SERC). © Jonathan Hillyer / Atlanta

  • Architects: Lord, Aeck & Sargent (LAS) 
  • Project: New Engineering Research, Testing and Education bldg. at University of Alabama
  • Location:  Alabama, USA
  • Photography: Jonathan Hillyer / Atlanta
  • Project Team:
    UA Facilities (Tuscaloosa, Ala.) – Owner’s Representative
    • Davis Architects (Birmingham, Ala. office) – Architect-of-Record
    • Lord, Aeck & Sargent (Atlanta office) – Laboratory Architect
    • Whitaker & Rawson (Birmingham, Ala.) – MP/FP Engineer
    • Jackson, Renfro & Associates (Birmingham, Ala.) – Electrical Engineer
    • LBYD (Birmingham, Ala. office) – Structural Engineer
    • McGiffert and Associates (Tuscaloosa, Ala.) – Civil Engineer and Landscape Architect
    • Gary C. Wyatt (Birmingham, Ala.) – General Contractor

The large-scale structures lab at the University of Alabama’s South Engineering Research Center (SERC). This lab features a “strong floor,” which must be stiff, perfectly level and smooth and provide a strong, stable platform for its heavy equipment load and for performing research such as seismic testing and structural wall assembly. © Jonathan Hillyer / Atlanta

The building, known as the South Engineering Research Center, or SERC, was completed in January. Envisioned by the UA College of Engineering (COE) as a facility that would emphasize multidisciplinary research and education over the five separate departments whose faculty it would house, the SERC has already fulfilled that goal and also has helped in the COE’s effort to recruit science and engineering faculty along with graduate and undergraduate students. The four-story (including the mechanical penthouse), 197,000-gross-square-foot SERC was designed by the team of Davis Architects as architect-of-record and LAS as laboratory architect.

SERC laboratory architect Lord, Aeck & Sargent wrapped several undergraduate research and teaching labs around the high-bay labs and equipped them with large glass windows to allow students to view engineering on display and learn from the research going on in the high bays. : Image Courtesy © Jonathan Hillyer / Atlanta

Although the SERC houses some of the COE’s department faculty from aerospace engineering and mechanics; chemical and biological engineering; civil, construction and environmental engineering; electrical and computer engineering; and mechanical engineering, associate dean for research John Wiest emphasized, “We didn’t want areas devoted to single disciplines; we wanted a building that focused on multidisciplinary research and education, and this approach is working amazingly well.

The 3,175-square-foot large-scale structures lab at the University of Alabama’s South Engineering Research Center (SERC).: Image Courtesy © Jonathan Hillyer / Atlanta

“Rather than having individual labs for individual faculty members, we have teams of faculty and students from multiple disciplines working together. So for example, mechanical engineers sit next to and work with civil engineers. We get a lot of synergy that way,” Wiest said.

Programming no easy task

The programming and design challenge for LAS, according to laboratory planner Patrick McIntyre, was in the complexity, adjacency and diversity of the 85 testing and research spaces, all of which had to co-exist with traditional research, classroom, office and meeting spaces.

One of the 85 highly diverse research and testing laboratory spaces in the University of Alabama’s South Engineering Research Center (SERC).: Image Courtesy © Jonathan Hillyer / Atlanta

“We addressed the issue by creating zones,” McIntyre said. “For example, one of the major functions taking place in the building is vehicle, engine and combustion research and testing. Because of hazardous chemical issues and extreme noise associated with the work, we isolated all of these functions into what we refer to as the ‘combustion wing.’ ”

LAS located another area – the high-bay zone – in the SERC’s central core, which joins the structure’s combustion and other wing. This zone consists of three 30-foot-tall high-bay laboratories: the 3,175-square-foot large-scale structures lab; the 3,400-square-foot electromechanical systems lab; and the 2,450-square-foot materials testing lab.

The central corridor in the Combustion Wing of the University of Alabama’s South Engineering Research Center (SERC). : Image Courtesy © Jonathan Hillyer / Atlanta

“Because one of our important design concepts was to put ‘science on display,’ we wrapped several undergraduate research and teaching labs around the high-bay labs and equipped them with large glass windows to allow the students to view engineering on display and learn from the research going on in the high bays,” McIntyre said.

“The large-scale structures lab is one of the things I like best about the SERC, but it created some novel design challenges,” said UA’s Wiest, who served as the interface between the design team and the building users.

The University of Alabama’s South Engineering Research Center (SERC) is one of three new buildings in the university’s Science and Engineering Complex. A fourth building is under construction and will be completed in August 2013. : Image Courtesy © Jonathan Hillyer / Atlanta

Wiest’s reference, according to McIntyre, was to the design of a separate support structure, or “strong floor” for the lab, which has heavy equipment mounted to it and has to withstand strong vibrations and attached loads.

“A strong floor has to be stiff, perfectly level and smooth and provide a strong, stable platform for its heavy equipment load and for performing research such as seismic testing and structural wall assembly,” McIntyre said. “So the strong floor is elevated on massive concrete wall systems to support the floor.”

Wiest also commented on the engine combustion lab. “We wanted something like Ford Motor’s research lab, but it was difficult to describe to the designers, so the LAS design team flew up to Detroit to look at the lab. While ours isn’t as large as Ford’s, it’s remarkably similar and another of the areas I like best in the building.”

“A transformational change”

The SERC, whose total project cost of approximately $70 million was funded by a combination of UA funds and federal grants, “is part of a substantial upgrade of our facilities,” Wiest said. “We had been working in 50- to 100-year-old buildings and labs of the same vintage, so this has been a transformational change for the whole College of Engineering.”

Furthermore, Wiest said that the SERC and the entire Complex have been “a tremendous boon” to faculty and student recruitment efforts. “Since work got underway about seven years ago on the first building in this project, we’ve hired 51 new faculty in the College. And nearly a third of the 33 faculty members housed in the SERC are new hires.”

The next building

LAS is also the laboratory architect for the last of four new buildings in the Science and Engineering Complex. When completed in August 2013, the “North Engineering Research Center,” or NERC, will be a 185,000-gross-square-foot building supporting research in composite and nanocomposite materials; tribology, surfaces, coatings and corrosion; materials processing, manufacturing and joining; electronic, magnetic and photonic sensors; and structural characterization.

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Categories: Educational Institute, Research & Development Centre, University Building

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