Last but not least: 'Building 4' to complete the SEQ

The Bioengineering and Chemical Engineering Building, the last component of the Science and Engineering Quad, will echo the design and energy-saving features of the Jerry Yang and Akiko Yamazaki Environment and Energy Building, the Jen-Hsun Huang Engineering Center and the Center for Nanoscale Science and Engineering. It too is designed to foster cooperation and teamwork among researchers.

Boora Architects Rendering of the Bioengineering and Chemical Engineering Building

A rendering of the Bioengineering and Chemical Engineering Building.

Buildings seemed to sprout all over campus this past academic year. Many are completed, but one that is on its way is the Bioengineering and Chemical Engineering Building, the last component of the Science and Engineering Quad (SEQ).

"Off-the-charts spectacular" is how Drew Endy, assistant professor of bioengineering and a member of the faculty committee overseeing construction, described his department's future home, set to open in 2014. The committee is chaired by Curt Frank, professor of chemical engineering.

The Department of Bioengineering was cofounded in 2002 by the schools of Engineering and Medicine and was one of the first tenants of the James H. Clark Center, home to Stanford's path-breaking Bio-X program.

What a difference a decade can make. The venture has become a world-class department whose presence has inspired and enabled multidisciplinary collaboration across schools and departments. But its success meant Clark filled up, and new hires and the ever-expanding graduate population had no place to go.

Building 4 (its temporary name) not only will solve the space problem and allow bioengineering to fully launch its incipient undergraduate degree program, it also will offer an unparalleled way of working.

"This building is an incredible opportunity," Endy said recently as he leafed through design plans to point out one amazing feature after the next. "There are very few buildings in the world developed to support bioengineering and chemical engineering like this. This is a substantial building. It will have unique and important things that no other place has. It will be an anchor for the next 100 years."

Bioengineering will share quarters with the Department of Chemical Engineering, whose faculty and students currently are dispersed throughout several buildings.

Bioengineers and chemical engineers have a lot in common, but there are important differences. Bioengineers work in life sciences. They invent applications and technologies, often in conjunction with physicians, who at Stanford are a short walk away at the Clark Center or the School of Medicine. Chemical engineers, meanwhile, work at the molecular scale to develop processes with applications not only to medicine but also to energy and the environment.

Like the rest of SEQ and, indeed, like the Clark Center, Building 4 is designed to encourage cooperation and teamwork. There will be dry and wet lab space for Stanford researchers and visitors, offices, classrooms and conference space.

Being the last of the four buildings has advantages and disadvantages. On one hand, planners learned lessons from the experience of building the previous three. On the other, at various points along the way, features omitted from the first three looked like they would have to get stuffed into the fourth.

"That put pressure on No. 4," Endy said. But the good outweighed the bad.

"An advantage of being No. 4 is that we've had time to relax," he said. "This project hasn't gotten railroaded. We can try things and then jiggle them around or blow them up and then come up with better designs."

Design by committee, especially a committee with professors, researchers, architects, planners and administrators, can be rough going. Putting it all together is the task of the project director, Stephen Pond, of the Office of Land, Buildings and Real Estate.

"My job is to make sure that everyone's goals are met," he said, meaning design, construction, logistics, finance and research. "My job is to ensure that that vision is realized."

At one particular logjam, Endy remembered, Pond came up with what has to be one of the most beautiful metaphors ever for planning: frazil ice, the slushy ice crystals that form in high mountain rivers during the clear, cold weather of early spring. Like lava, its flow is inexorable and mesmerizing.

"Pond basically said, this project is like frazil ice," Endy recalled. "The project will flow, the building will go up. You cannot stop the process. It will happen. And putting up dams to stop the flow just leads to stupid outcomes."

And, Endy said, "that meeting led to real design breakthroughs."

Two principal lessons were learned from the previous buildings, Frank said. First, each floor of No. 4 will have one main east-west corridor and one north-south corridor. That's it. No warrens. Second, the central staircase is actually central, supporting what faculty members call "vertical mixing"; that is, bathrooms, meeting rooms and kitchens are all near the stairs to encourage chance meeting and interaction.

Building 4 will echo the design and energy-saving features of the other buildings in SEQ: the Jerry Yang and Akiko Yamazaki Environment and Energy Building, nicknamed Y2E2 (to which it will be nearly identical); the Jen-Hsun Huang Engineering Center; and the Center for Nanoscale Science and Engineering, or Nano Center. All were designed by Boora Architects, based in Portland, Ore.

The new building will consist of three stories above grade and two levels below. It will connect to both Y2E2 and the Nano Center at the first basement ("terrace") level, which is especially important for the chemical engineers, Frank said, who need direct contact with civil and environmental engineers in Y2E2 and with the nanotech people.

Bioengineers and chemical engineers alike in Building 4 will have open, integrated lab space, along the lines of the Clark Center, as well as insulated lab space, depending on researchers' projects and preference. The main entry level will house the two departments' offices, but almost the entire main floor will be dedicated to students.

Bioengineering graduated its first undergraduate student last spring, and it expects to have between 50 and 100 by the time the building opens. Undergraduates will take a capstone design course along the lines of the existing biodesign course for graduate students organized by the medical, engineering and business schools. There will be eight design studios and teaching laboratories in the new building where "undergraduates will learn with their own hands how to create bioengineering and chemical engineering systems," Endy said.

In August deep holes were drilled for the vertical beams around the perimeter that will shore up the site and make it safe for excavation. Digging is set to start this month. Steel for the building's frame is ordered, and those beams should start going up in winter.

Cyclists and pedestrians making their way through the west side of campus can expect to encounter dust, noise and detours through the heavy construction period. But that is a small price to pay for what planners, bioengineers and chemical engineers believe will be a major step forward for scientific and engineering teaching and research.