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Stanford Report, October 29, 2003

Clark Center, 'nucleus for a range of new research' opens


The James H. Clark Center, the embodiment of Stanford's collaborative Bio-X program, was officially dedicated Friday at a ceremony that showcased the building's ability to bring people together.

Bio-X Chair Matthew Scott addressed hundreds of Stanford community members and supporters Friday during the dedication of the James H. Clark Center. Also onstage, from left, President John Hennessy, Board of Trustees Chair Isaac Stein and Clark, who donated $90 million for the center’s construction. Photo: L.A. Cicero

Original music composed by Associate Professor Jonathan Berger for the event set the tone as hundreds of faculty, staff, students, public officials and other guests perused the facility and researchers showed off the work taking place in their new labs. Once the St. Lawrence String Quartet, the university's ensemble-in-residence, took center stage to play Berger's "Electronic Fanfare," event-goers ringed the graceful curving tiers and staircase encircling the central granite pavilion to witness the official dedication.

"It is a delight to have a building whose architecture mirrors our vision of the groundbreaking work that will go on there," President John Hennessy said in his opening remarks.

Lord Norman Foster, chief architect of the Clark Center, used maps and photographs during his talk Friday in the center’s main auditorium. Photo: L.A. Cicero

A little more than two years after the groundbreaking, the Clark Center already has evolved into a functioning workspace for about 30 faculty members and their labs. Hennessy briefly recounted how the Bio-X initiative developed five years ago from a grassroots effort by a group of faculty representing several disciplines.

"What we did not have was a facility that could enable -- that could help spark -- this interdisciplinary work and act as a nucleus for a range of new research collaborations," he said. "The Clark Center fulfills that need and, as you can see, does so in glorious fashion."

The funders

The Clark Center was largely made possible by a gift of $90 million from James H. Clark, a former Stanford engineering professor and founder of Silicon Graphics and Netscape who was on hand for the celebration.

James Clark, the research center’s namesake and a former Stanford engineering professor, spoke Friday with Don Knuth, the Fletcher Jones Professor of Computer Science, Emeritus, after the building-dedication ceremony. Photo: L.A. Cicero

Hennessy disclosed in his remarks that the building's other major donor, previously anonymous, was The Atlantic Philanthropies, which contributed $60 million.

Clark told the gathering that he drew inspiration from his three years on the faculty, and added that "amazing things happen when smart people from different disciplines join together to create something new."

Clark said he contributed to Stanford to acknowledge the great people with whom he shared concepts and ideas. He made no mention of his decision in 2001 to suspend $60 million of his original $150 million pledge to protest President Bush's decision to limit federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research.

"At the university, we had tremendous latitude in our research," Clark recalled. "We had freedom to pursue our ideas without impediments and autonomy to venture out into the private sector. This great university was nothing less than Mecca for me.

"Throughout my academic career, I crossed boundaries to work with others ... and I believe this had a direct bearing on my success. I know that the collaborative model works and I know specifically that it works at Stanford," Clark said.

No holds barred

The transparency of the building was a recurring theme in the talks of the day, along with its openness, fluidity and lack of barriers, all serving as metaphors for the research taking place inside.

Earlier in the afternoon, chief architect Lord Norman Foster discussed the center's design during a presentation in its underground auditorium. Foster answered a question posed by a researcher working in the Center for Clinical Sciences Research building, which Foster also designed, about whether the inhabitants of Clark Center feel "naked" in such an open glass environment. Foster explained that extensive faculty input into the design of the space determined that the advantages of being close to the action of the lab outweighed the potential of feeling exposed.

As architect David Nelson, of Foster and Partners, who designed the interior spaces of the building, said, "Bio-X is a new way of working, almost anarchy," and the design of the building had to reflect a radical departure from science as it is done traditionally.

Those involved in conceiving the Clark Center had a common goal: to create a space that not only houses innovative work but actually inspires it. Foster said that there is "tremendous potential for a building that can in itself break down barriers," and that the Clark Center was just such a space.

Following remarks by Bio-X Chair Matthew Scott, professor of developmental biology and of genetics, Isaac Stein, chair of the university's Board of Trustees, officially accepted the building. He praised Clark for "supporting this research at this university at this momentous time. It is a great way for Stanford to begin the 21st century. We know that this is a time of extraordinary change and the Bio-X program represents this generation's best effort to ensure that our changes at Stanford will be positive ones and that they will leave a foundation for the generation that succeeds it. ... Through his gift, he has increased the capabilities of Stanford in an important way and has given us the opportunity to contribute to the greater good for years to come."


Center supporters Nancy Rutter and James Clark joined President Hennessy, right, for a tour of the building. It “mirrors our vision of the groundbreaking work that will go on there,” Hennessy said. Photo: L.A. Cicero

Bio-X benefactor discusses how the Clark Center will help foster the environment necessary to accelerate new inventions