The A. Alfred Taubman Engineering, Architecture, and Life Sciences Complex is a new 36,700 sf academic laboratory building for Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, Michigan, that provides advanced facilities for robotics engineering, biomedical engineering, life sciences and related programs. The design of the building evolved around opportunities to enhance connectivity at multiple scales – between the school’s various engineering and design disciplines, previously housed in separate buildings, as well as within existing and future regions of the campus.
The Taubman Complex is among the first buildings constructed in LTU’s major expansion and renovation effort, which will add new campus regions, buildings, and amenities to serve the university’s growing student population. To support this effort, the Complex is designed as an “extrudable section:” an occupiable bar that can be extended in phases to accommodate growth while maintaining the function and design integrity of the building. The spine of the bar is formed by two floors of laboratories, which look out into an open flex-space that runs the length of the building. This flex space is the collaborative heart of the Taubman Complex, providing an expansive and re-configurable hall for informal discussions, pin-up critique sessions, and lectures. Clerestory glazing fills the flex-space with light diffused through an ETFE (ethylene tetrafluoroethylene) scrim along the east facade; in the evening, this scrim becomes illuminated by light from within the building.
Beyond adding flexible collaborative spaces and laboratory facilities, we identified opportunities to use the form of the building to establish a new axis for the school that would enhance links between existing buildings and act as a bridge to future regions of the campus. The bridge-like form of the building defines the periphery of the campus and enhances the presence and view of the University from the adjacent major roadway. The Complex is linked to neighboring buildings by lifted bridges, framing a new grand entrance and gateway to the University. Breaching the linear form of the building, a carbon-fiber circulation “orb” contains the main staircase and marks entry to the building, while creating a focal point for the University quad.
The precedent for a light-filled, extendable building design is rooted in the history of our teaming architect and engineering firm, Albert Kahn Associates, and of Detroit as the center for American innovation in engineering. Albert Kahn was the primary architect for an emerging automobile industry; his commissions included numerous state-of-the-art factories for Henry Ford, which employed a revolutionary structural system engineered by Kahn and his brother Julius to allow for the creation of open span, brightly lit assembly floors. The success of these buildings depended on a repeated system of structural ribs and clerestory windows – an efficient, modular formula that could be expanded and extended to whatever size necessary to accommodate the program within. A century later, Kahn’s innovations are revived in a new expansion for Lawrence Technological University designed to offer flexible laboratory facilities for evolving research and disciplines.
Photo credits: Morphosis Architects