The Rajen Kilachand Center for Integrated Life Sciences & Engineering—Creating Space for Collaboration

The driving motivations: to house scientists from disparate fields in a way that facilitates natural interactions and to create a facility that can keep pace with the constant evolution of science.

“Physical spaces are intimately linked to the discovery process,” says researcher Christopher Chen, director of the Biological Design Center, one of the handful of innovative labs taking up residence in the Kilachand Center. “Chatting over coffee and realizing that between you, there’s a new idea—that’s where those ‘aha!’ moments happen.”

Dedicated to systems neuroscience, cognitive neuroimaging, and biological design, the Kilachand Center brings together life scientists, engineers, and physicians from the Medical and Charles River Campuses. The building contains lab space for more than 300 researchers, postdoctoral scholars, graduate students, staff, and additional space for future faculty. Naturally, it all starts on the first floor, which presents a welcoming glass atrium designed for an easy flow of traffic and features a symposium room, where scientists from across campus, and around the region, can convene.

Working closely with the University, the architects from Payette, a Boston firm that has built prize-winning science buildings for major research universities and other institutions around the world, took on the challenge of dreaming up and engineering the building. Each floor averages between 17,000 and 20,000 square feet of research space and can be reconfigured according to research needs, while each floor has enough lab space for three or more principal investigators. “When people with common interests work in the same area, they can help each other address shared challenges,” says lead architect Charles Klee. “Whether you’re troubleshooting a sophisticated piece of equipment, or tracking down an inexplicable artifact in your data, having colleagues within earshot can be a game changer.”

To help shake loose unexpected ideas away from the labs, the building features an abundance of common spaces—from lounges and meeting rooms to kitchenettes and an inviting, open stairway—all designed with the chance encounter in mind.

Other critically important features for the neuroscientists at the Kilachand Center are the sophisticated testing rooms and lab floors that minimize vibrations and shield experiments from electrical noise and electromagnetic interference.

Finally, the center’s glass-walled exterior provides a symbolic, and actual, window onto basic science research at BU. “This is not a building that wants to be ashamed that it’s a research building,” Klee says. “You can see the exhaust fans on the roof, for example. It’s transparent. You can see life in it. A lot of buildings are opaque—you have no idea whether it’s a dorm, an office building, or a bank. We’re giving science a front door on Commonwealth Avenue.”

 

Photograph by Chuck Choi

 

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