Pagliuca Harvard Life Lab

Architect: Shepley Bulfinch

Owner: Harvard University

Location: Allston, Mass.

Award of Excellence

The Harvard Innovation Labs (which include the i-lab, launch lab, and now the life lab) attract students and faculty from across Harvard University wishing to start or expand entrepreneurial ventures in an IP-free zone. Due to a growing demand for life science related ventures, Harvard Innovation Labs needed to expand its growing innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem with a new building solely dedicated to the life-science startups with specialized laboratory facilities.

The mission of the Pagliuca Harvard Life Lab is to provide students, faculty, post docs, and alumni with a fully-equipped wet-lab environment and resources needed to take their ventures to the next stage of development. The Life Lab's curated community fosters connections among industry, investor, government and academic stakeholders. The life lab was designed and constructed as a modular building, composed of 34 modules that were built off-site concurrent with the foundation construction on-site.  The overall construction period was 7 months shorter than with traditional construction, reducing the impact of site activity including noise, dust, deliveries, and on-site waste.

"The design solution showcases the program beautifully. The use of off-site construction is pushed beyond the usual bounds of modular componentry to create a rich and varied experience." ~ Jury Statement

The plan is based on a modular 11x11 grid. The design team succeeded in reducing columns in the open office and lab areas while concealing others within walls to create open floor plans. The module height is limited to 12’-6” due to shipping restrictions (fitting under bridges) which represented a real challenge for a lab building which typically has 15’-0” floor to floor height.  An open exposed ceiling and intensive coordination of systems in the ceiling allowed both floors to feel more open and expansive.

The construction tolerances of the joints led to the implementation of a randomized rainscreen concrete panel system that could allow for tolerances and conceal any undulation. This façade system also provided vertical emphasis for the 2 story volume, and created textural depth within the facade that varies with sunlight throughout the day. The rainscreen continues by wrapping the soffit of the cantilevers, with the patterns directionality leading users toward the entrance. The eastern cantilevered volume of the building provides a threshold of respite at entry while gesturing toward its i-lab counterpart.

The Life Lab’s first floor features an open layout anchored by a black-painted core that houses meeting rooms, phone booths, and a kitchen. Social areas defined by wood ceilings and floors intersect the black core, providing further definition to the open area while still allowing flexible furniture to move and accommodate a range of activities. The second floor lab area features 30 wet lab benches rentable by each team, alongside shared tissue culture rooms, fume hoods and a cold room.

A private 1,000 square foot suite provides a unique space for a larger, more experienced team that can mentor and support the other start-ups. With skylights above, the open perforated metal staircase is flooded with natural light that is filtered through linear wooden slats. This opening provides an important visual connection between the two floors and is accentuated by a dramatic two story art piece that illustrates movement of synthetic neural systems.

Additional information

Acoustical/Vibration: Acentech

Civil Engineer: SLB Group

Construction Contractor: NRB USA Inc

Construction Manager: Shawmut Design & Construction

Exhaust Re-Entrainment Consultant: RWDI

Fire Protection: Jensen Hughes

Geotechnical Engineer: Haley & Aldrich

Graphic Arts & Design Lighting Consultant: Collaborative Lighting

Lab Manager: Lab Central

Landscape Architect: Reed Hildebrand

MEP Engineer: Vanderweil Engineers

Modular Construction Manager: Triumph Modular

Signage Consultant: Anna Farrington

Structural Engineer, Foundations: LeMessurier


David Van Galen, AIA, (2018 Chair) Integrus Architects, Seattle

Linsey Graff, Assoc. AIA, Ayers Saint Gross, Tempe, Arizona

Wendy Rogers, FAIA, LPA, Inc., Irvine, California

Judy Hoskens, Assoc. AIA, REFP, Cuningham Group, Minneapolis

Image credits

Pagliuca Harvard Life Lab Exterior

Robert Benson

Life Lab Exterior View

Robert Benson

Life Lab Interior View

Robert Benson

Life Lab Interior

Robert Benson

Life Lab Interior

Robert Benson