The 2016 award for Special Recognition for Design, submitted by HDR Architecture, was presented to the Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan Building for Personalized Cancer Care at MD Anderson in Houston.
The project was fairly quick, with footings going in the ground just nine months after the design team was selected. The building core and shell were designed and built first, thanks to phased delivery and multiple bid packages. The initial interior fit-out included laboratories, laboratory clinical space, offices, and conference and building support spaces.
A distinctive pinwheel shape of four separate wings was designed to foster collaboration between building tenants who might not otherwise have reason to interact with each other. A central “hub,” or “living room,” serves as the connection point between the four wings. The distribution of the different varieties of destination spaces on different floors creates a “vertical spine.”
“It’s certainly afforded a lot of exterior light into the lab areas,” said Courtney Harper, president of interior architect Courtney Harper Partners, about the building’s pinwheel shape. “One of the drivers of the building was trying to encourage researchers to come out and communicate with the other occupants of the building more.”
“The owner had wanted to have flexible meeting areas,” said Harper. “It’s pretty flexible in that the conference room can be opened up entirely to the rest of the communal area.” Unlike other projects, Harper said, the tenants of the Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan Building actually use the moving walls for their intended purpose. “They’re taking advantage of the flexibility of the space.”
The Laboratory of the Year judging panel noted that the facility is a “striking building,” and recognized that the central hub is a main focus of the building.
Green is featured prominently throughout the building, Harper said, because the podium base of the building is clad in granite that has a bit of a pink color to it. Green naturally pairs well with pink; the granite was “a genesis for a lot of the other color selections.”
A unique feature of the building is the illuminated box underneath the lobby’s monumental staircase—the box serves as cane detection, in lieu of railings, in order to meet ADA standards. Another interesting feature to the building is the addition of pinup space on upper floors, to allow occupants to pin things to the walls. The areas also serve as a natural space for meetings.
Another concern for the designers was to create a space so that people can work anywhere. Technology allows researchers to move outside the office and the laboratory; therefore, in addition to the busy central hub space, quiet zones were also installed to give building occupants choices of where to go. This is especially important as the next generation enters the healthcare workforce.
Houston is a huge medical hub, and home to dozens of hospitals and research buildings. Therefore, architects and designers wanted to make the Zayed building stand out.
“It has the benefit of being located on a corner site so you have exterior exposure from two sides. The buildings that surround it are not quite as tall so it has the benefit of standing up taller,” Harper added. “Because of the intersection of the street there is more green open space, so this building really stands out as a beacon. It’s pretty effective how many vision corridors there are to this building on a pretty cramped site.”
“A lot of the existing older labs on campus are a little more closed in,” she concluded. “This one really displays the function of the building to the exterior. At night when the building is lit up, you can see all the labs.”
MD Anderson, and the designers and architects of the Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan Building, are optimistic for the future—they’re already planning to fit out the building for other purposes once cancer is eradicated.