Designing a Laboratory for Ideas

The new home for The Simons Center for Systems Biology, designed as a wing to the existing Bloomberg Hall, provides office space for Faculty, Members, Visitors, and administrative staff as well as a variety of spaces for formal and informal meetings. The lower floor, programmatically distinct from The Simons Center, is occupied by the Institute’s computer center.

The building is configured to eliminate corridors, with the majority of the rooms arranged in a ring around a double- height space that functions as lobby, library, and stair hall. A lightweight public staircase within the central space connects the two floors of The Simons Center for Systems Biology, underneath which is a stairway to the entry level. The central space is intended to be an active hub, encouraging the kind of interactions that are at the heart of the interdisciplinary mission of the Center. The meeting spaces are located strategically at the end of pathways of movement, so that as you enter you will always be moving toward light and views out to the landscape, concluding in a large terrace overlooking a new courtyard.

The courtyard features a sculpture by artist Richard Long (see article below) and provides a protected and intimate outdoor space with southern exposure to sunlight. The Simons Center has incorporated many sustainable design strategies to reduce the building’s environmental impact.The building has a green roof, the first in Princeton Township, designed to increase the insulation of the roof while serving as a storm water management solution without building new cisterns or retention ponds. All of the interior materials were selected to off-gas little or no volatile organic compounds. The interior systems will optimize energy use by capturing and reusing waste heat and adjusting lighting and temperature levels based on occupancy.

The overall design completes the strategy of Bloomberg Hall, which preserved two older buildings as pavilions at the end of a new connecting building. While The Simons Center is itself a distinct structure with its own sense of place, it emulates the sensibility of the existing pavilions, taking cues from their proportions and details and interpreting them in a contemporary way. A terra-cotta tile wall with high-performance aluminum windows was selected and detailed to recall the expression of the brick walls and punched wood windows of these original structures. The building will be a wonderful laboratory for ideas, and a beautiful new counterpart to the stately brick buildings that originally defined the campus.