Stacking the odds: View into a vertical vivarium

A vertical vivarium at UCLA’s Neuroscience Research Center provides contamination control and interdisciplinary collaboration

By Paul Clinch, AIA, LEED, AP, Perkins+Will

A Health Sciences Campus Redevelopment Study, which was developed after the 1994 Northridge earthquake, identified the need for a new Neuroscience Research Center at the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA). The new structure would support the relocation of neuroscience programs at the Neuropsychiatric Institute and the School of Medicine, which had been located in earthquake-damaged buildings. The new building encourages interdisciplinary communication, work, and study; this was accomplished in a number of different ways.

View from the street showing the glass curtain at the Neuroscience Research Center, UCLA. Laboratories are located behind the brick facades and the corridors are located behind the glass curtain wall. Photo courtesy of JRS Steinkamp-Ballogg, Chicago.
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Physical connections

The award-winning curved glass and brick structure, which opened in 2005, acts as a “bridge” design component that ties together the Academic and Health Science campuses. The building’s façade comprises two different materials set in an alternating pattern: bricks composed of four different colors commonly found on the UCLA campus, and precast concrete panels finished to look like limestone (a much more cost-effective alternative). A dramatic curved glass curtain wall with projecting sunshades provides transparency between the building’s public spaces and the campus, while providing abundant natural light to the laboratory space. Inside, the 130,000-square-foot lab facility includes wet laboratories for neuroscience and genetic research, support space, animal facilities, staff and research offices, and other instructional and public spaces.

A main design objective was to promote interaction among researchers, including interdisciplinary research and a team approach to studies. Designers were able to use the campus master plan to their advantage: the plan, which promotes overall connections among campus departments, allowed designers to create a series of building connections to adjacent laboratory and vivarium facilities. This further enhances the possibility of collaborative research.

Using similar principles on a broader scale, designers called for pedestrian connections through the site from the newly developing research buildings and hospital. The primary connective element is the lobby. A two-story volume located in the middle of the Neuroscience Center, the lobby allows entrance on both the building’s west side and its east side. It is a full story higher than the main building to facilitate cross-circulation and visual connection.

Vertical advantages

Neuroscience research relies heavily on the study of animals, so the space must have ample facilities for small animals and primates. The objective of the design team, which included UCLA researchers as well as architects from Perkins & Will (Chicago, Ill.) and designers from GPR Planners Collaborative, Inc. (Purchase, N.Y.), was to put as much research space as close as possible to the animals. To accomplish this goal, the team developed a concept, the Vertical Vivarium, that places a satellite vivarium on each of the three laboratory levels supplementing the central vivarium. Each satellite vivarium is located in the center of the level, and is accessible to each of the three main laboratory zones as well as the central vivarium via dedicated elevator. Each satellite includes both animal holding and procedure rooms.

A vertical vivarium permits the labs on each floor to tailor their needs according to the types of research they conduct. At the same time, centrally locating the vivarium to researchers and other research allows direct access from all three labs, further encouraging interdisciplinary collaboration.

A vertical vivarium has other benefits. First, the isolation from the rest of the building and the connection to the other vivarium reduces problems from cross-contamination. Animal feed and bedding are brought in through the central vivarium for sterilization. Sterile cages, feed and bedding can then be distributed directly to each floor’s vivarium via the dedicated elevator. Second, it adds to building security. Being central means the vivarium is entirely within the building’s interior and is only accessible via the labs or the interconnecting elevator.

View from the interior corridor of the Neuroscience Research Center, UCLA. Photo courtesy of JRS Steinkamp-Ballogg, Chicago.
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The floor plan maximizes research space by providing the maximum amount of usable space to the floor’s gross area. Each laboratory floor has a 70 percent efficiency: approximately 8,400 net square feet dedicated to each laboratory (including its vivarium); 4,900 nsf dedicated to laboratory support; and 4,530 nsf dedicated to office/administration space.

Technical challenges

Centrally locating each vivarium was only one way to avoid cross-contamination. Boston-based Bard, Rao + Athanas Consulting Engineers, LLC, the project’s mechanical, electrical, and plumbing engineers, designed a completely separate mechanical system for the vivarium. All floors run off the same mechanical unit, which has 100 percent exhaust.

Vivarium air control includes negative air pressure in its spaces, versus positive air pressure in surrounding spaces. To support the air pressure, all vivarium doors are gasket-sealed, and walls are adhered to the slab’s underside. All penetrations are sealed.

The mechanical system is a one-pass-through type, serving the entire basement as well as the vertical vivarium. The central system is equipped with HEPA filtration to ensure the large animal holding rooms have clean air, and also to allow for future direct air injection into cage racks if researchers opt to work with rodents versus primates. The distribution system is variable air volume, designed for up to 20 air changes per hour in the animal holding rooms. The system can also reduce the airflow down to 10 air changes per hour, an option for when the rooms are partially occupied and/or researchers or vivarium service staff are not present. Air volume reduction is accomplished via building management system and a vivarium-dedicated control station managed by vivarium personnel.

Designed to be flexible, the system allows servicing of the animal holding rooms for when both primates and rodents in ventilated racks are housed. This was accomplished by installing 4-inch round exhaust connections in a pattern that allows multiple racks to be installed in each holding room. Then, load simulators can be used as part of the room exhaust when large animals are housed, or as a cage rack “hook-up” when rodents are housed.

Typical laboratory at the Neuroscience Research Center, UCLA, showing a modular approach and flexible laboratory furniture. Photo courtesy of JRS Steinkamp-Ballogg, Chicago.
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Each room’s environmental conditions are individually controlled, allowing room temperatures to be maintained between a low of 68°F to a high of 80°F. This capability provides added flexibility in housing various animal species, many of which require different room temperatures.

Each room’s pressure relationships are also adjustable. This allows positive or negative airflow from the animal holding rooms to the animal holding suite corridor. Again, this provides researchers with the flexibility to program positive or negative airflow to suit the type of research they conduct.

As an added benefit, the vivarium areas are designed with partial interstitial space. This provides maintenance staff with access to equipment without having to gown or disrupt researchers’ work.

Since its completion, the Neuroscience Center has proven to be a success. Recognized for overall design, it received the Design Excellence Award in 2005 from both Chicago and Los Angeles chapters of the American Institute of Architects. By closely following the objectives set forth in the campus master plan and using a team approach to plan the laboratory spaces, the design team has reduced the risk of cross-contamination, yet stacked the odds in favor of cross-communication.

Paul Clinch is a science, technology, and healthcare principal with Perkins+Will. He has over twenty-five years of experience in planning, design, and management. His expertise in the area of high-technology facilities has earned him national recognition. Mr. Clinch can be reached at (312) 755-4506 or via e-mail at [email protected].


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