Pagliuca Harvard Life Lab

Architect: Shepley Bulfinch

Owner: Harvard University

Location: Allston, Massachusetts

Category B: Project Delivery & Construction Administration Excellence

The Pagliuca Harvard Life Lab provides much-needed space for life science ventures that have a connection to the Harvard University community. The building’s second floor houses the laboratory space, with 36 lab benches, shared tissue culture core labs, centralized fume hoods, a cold storage room, and a private 1,000 square foot suite. Glass walls provide a visual connection to the space below and promote collaboration and movement. The first floor is a flexible space for individual and collaborative work, socialization, and events. Anchoring the otherwise open area is a central core that includes enclosed meeting rooms, phone booths, and a kitchen. A social area defined by a wood ceiling and floor intersects the core, providing further definition to the open area while still allowing the flexible furniture to move and accommodate a range of activities and special events. The design palette intentionally blends the industrial aesthetic with a lively but sophisticated finish palette, reflecting a professional space where creativity and risk-taking thrive. Flooded with natural light from a skylight above, an open perforated metal staircase connects the two floors, features a dramatic art piece that visualizes the movement of synthetic neural systems.

"The application of modular construction to a small lab was innovative and intriguing, and we are excited to see future work in this area." - Jury comment

The Life Lab was designed using modular prefabricated components. The building, consisting of 34 modules, was static built in-place inside the modular contractor NRB USA Inc.’s Pennsylvania facility and then disassembled, shipped by truck to Massachusetts, and reassembled onsite.  Once the modules arrived on site, we utilized a 500 ton crane, which required extensive pre-planning with detailed hoisting and rigging plans. The modules weigh up to 30,000 pounds with uneven weight distribution, so it was critical to provide rigging to keep them level while setting them in place.  While the majority of construction occurred in Pennsylvania, certain design elements needed to be installed on-site to ensure the highest level of fit and finish, including finished flooring, painting, and wood baffle ceilings. This required a high level of collaboration and coordination between our team and NRB, and it resulted in a project that was delivered on time and on budget. The use of modular construction reduced the construction duration from a typical 12 months for traditional construction to only seven months.

Additional information

Project team

Acoustical/Vibration: Acentech

Architect/Interior Designer/Laboratory Planner: Shepley Bulfinch

Engineer – Civil: SLB Group

Engineer - Geotechnical: Haley & Aldrich

Engineer – MEP: Vanderweil Engineers

Engineer – Structural (Foundations): LeMessurier

Fire Protection: Jensen Hughes

General Contractor: Shawmut Design & Construction

Lab Operator: Lab Central

Landscape Architect: Reed Hildebrand

Lighting Consultant: Collaborative Lighting

Modular Construction Contractor: NRB USA Inc

Modular Construction Manager: Triumph Modular

Signage Consultant: Anna Farrington Graphic Arts & Design

Wind Consultant: RWDI


Stephen Van Dyck, AIA (Chair), LMN Architects, Seattle

Andrew Cocke, ZGF Architects, Washington, DC

Jeffrey McGrew, Because We Can, Oakland, California

Robert Otani, Thornton Tomassetti, New York City

Kat Park, Assoc. AIA, SOM, San Francisco

Alexandra Pollock, AIA, FX Collaborative, New York City

Jury comments

The application of modular construction to a small lab was innovative and intriguing, and we are excited to see future work in this area. Overall there is a certain complexity in coordinating a lab building, and it’s impressive that everything fit together without any substantial in-field adjustment. Across building types there is a need for buildings of this size to go up cheaply and quickly. If it works in this case, it could work in other building types that require complex MEP systems. Unfortunately, the submission did not explore other project delivery applications.

Image credits

Sara Glassman - Life Lab 2

Robert Benson Photography

Sara Glassman - Life Lab 3

Robert Benson Photography

Sara Glassman - Life Lab 4

Robert Benson Photography

Sara Glassman - Life Lab 5

Robert Benson Photography

Sara Glassman - Life Lab 6

Robert Benson Photography

Sara Glassman - Life Lab 7

Robert Benson Photography

Sara Glassman - Life Lab 8

Robert Benson Photography

Sara Glassman - Life Lab 1

Robert Benson Photography