Thursday, December 06, 2012

A Biotech Firm Runs Through It

Q and A with Jill Schick and Howard Goldstein
by Beth Herman

Charged with creating the behemoth mixed use world headquarters, including offices, laboratory, daycare center and 90-foot-long steel and glass connector for the 250,000 s.f. United Therapeutics Corporation, 1040 Spring St., Silver Spring, Maryland, Jill Schick and Howard Goldstein of Schick Goldstein Architects P.C.left no stone unturned -- and no terrace untree'd. A biotech firm on the cutting edge of developing and marketing specialized products for individuals with chronic and life-threatening illnesses, the program for UTC included three buildings, green roofs and individual terraces, street level retail shops and extensive exterior and interior public spaces. Phase II, at 7 stories, achieved LEED Gold (the others were not submitted) and won the USGB's National Capitol Region Chapter 2010 Award of Excellence Project of the Year for New Construction.  DCMud talked with Schick and Goldstein about the decade-long project.

DCMud: Tell us about the unusual venue for UTC.

Schick: Most biotech firms in the area would go out to I-270, where they'd have a sprawling piece of land and not have to deal with city codes, etc.  Dr. Martine Rothblatt, who is the CEO, has lived in Silver Spring for years. She wanted to bring UTC to an urban setting and give back to the city by bringing in professional people, as a tax base, as well as offering the many courtyards incorporated into the design to the public.

DCMud: What was the process?

Goldstein: We were asked to develop a master plan for the entire project in 2002-2003, so prepared a number of designs for the three buildings at the same time. They were built individually, the 4-story laboratory building completed in 2006, the 7-story Phase II in 2010 and the last one opening just this year.

DCMud: What was the program for the second building?

Goldstein: It's mixed use. The first floor is retail shops and lobby space, entered from an amenity space. There are more laboratories on the 2nd, 3rd and 4th floors, and it has offices on the 5th, 6th and 7th floors. Green roof terraces exist off of the 5th and 7th floors, accessed from individual offices. A vast interior stair encourages high use and interaction as opposed to employees using an elevator or fire stair.

DCMud:What about some of UTC's sustainable elements.

Goldstein: First, we have 5,000 s.f. of solar panels on each building.

Schick: On the first building we used a lot of precast concrete for environmental purposes. There is also a lot of channel glass which affords much natural light but does not sacrifice privacy for the employees. There are exterior sun control louvers on the south and west facades.

DCMud: We understand the choice of terracotta skews wide.

Goldstein: We used (environmentally friendly) terracotta to define the area where the lab is on the 3rd and 4th floors of building #2. The office area above it on floors 5, 6 and 7 is glass and metal panel. The terracotta also scales the building down because there's a residential area to the north, so we used a color that's similar to brick. It also serves as a rain screen system, where the waterproofing is between the screen and the skin.

Schick: It's done a lot in Europe. There's no caulking, sealing and tightening.You're getting the water not to penetrate the building at all; the rain drips down behind it with its pressure equalized. And architecturally, the design of this building swoops you around to the public space on Cameron Street.

DCMud: What was the thinking behind the extensive use of public spaces?

Goldstein: In CBD's (central business districts), you're allowed to double the FAR (floor area ratio) if you provide a public amenity space in 20 percent of the lot. Our FAR was 'one' on this project, which was extremely low. One means if the property is 40,000 s.f., as with the lab area, then you can only build that much. But if you offer a public amenity space, like the courtyard we created, you can double it, which is what we did.

We created what are called pocket parks. Across the street there is an apartment building with an amenity space also, so they could double their FAR. So when you take their amenity space, and our pocket parks, and then an atrium we've created for Phase III, it becomes one large dynamic green space with a road running through it, which is the goal of the Parks Department.

Schick: There's also a public space that's interior, and it's three stories tall. It's always open, so if there's inclement weather, or you just want to experience that space, you can do it -- including on your way to the Metro which is nearby.

Goldstein: Our client calls the UTC campus 'one of the gateways to Silver Spring.'

DCMud: We understand the connector between two of the buildings has a bit of a backstory.

Schick: That was a hard thing to get approved by the neighbors. They didn't want a bridge because it takes people off the street, but this was purely for the company - and it's really called a connector. It was constructed in the South, trucked up and lifted into place. They had to close the street.

DCMud: Tell us about the final building.

Goldstein: It's an office building for staff. The entry is a 3-story atrium space off of Cameron Street. There's a pocket park off of Spring Street at the west end of the property, which is linked to the Cameron Street entrance through the atrium. The first floor is retail. The second and third floors - open to the atrium - are these 'Google spaces' - open, casual, working on your laptop, playing ping pong, having coffee or juice kinds of spaces. There's a lecture hall here as well.

DCMud: A potent feather in Silver Spring's municipal cap - and yours - to say the least!

Photos courtesy of Alan Karchmer and Anice Hoachlander


Anonymous said...

There is a lot going on here but from these photos it's pretty captivating. I like it!

Anonymous said...

This is a very cool set of buildings to see in person. Really wish DC-proper firms would put this much thought and emphasis on architecture and design. United Therapeutics recently bought an adjacent county parking garage for future expansion - hope to see that sooner rather than later!

Anonymous said...

Lovely buildings.

Anonymous said...

Great article, but the photos of the exterior do not show the current appearance of the buildings--you are missing out on the most dynamic aspect. Specifically, the third building just completed (and not shown) is the largest and is connected to the 2nd building by a VERY cool skybridge over Cameron Street. The skybridge is lit at night to appear like a double-helix DNA strand. The rest of the exterior of the buildings and the landscape also has very interesting and clever treatment that must be seen to be best understood. I recommend an trip up here at dusk-to-dark to truly appreciate how well-done this facility is.

Rebecca on Dec 6, 2012, 3:56:00 PM said...

I live about a block from here and these are by far the most interesting, well-designed office buildings in Silver Spring, if not the entire DC area. (The Silver Spring Civic Center is great too, though not an office building.) I really think these should win some kind of award - they are truly assets to the neighborhood. It is obvious that the architects and other designers put a lot of thought into every aspect of the design. Our communities would be better places if this same level of care was taken with all building projects!

R. McGhee said...

A Complicated Project, executed well. Congrats!


Jerry A. McCoy on Dec 6, 2012, 5:10:00 PM said...

Does anyone know which MC-owned parking garage was purchased since there are three of them that surround this project?

Anonymous said...

I passed by the complex the day they installed the glazed panels for the "connector." Huge sheets of glass were raised above the street by a crane. I was almost late for my doctor's appointment because I didn't want to stop watching!

Overall, a really exciting project by really talented architects. There is so much to catch the eye. I'd love to tour the interiors...wonder if they ever have open houses??

Anonymous said...

Jerry, I'm pretty sure it's the one at Spring&Colesville next to the southeast building (with the blank rear wall, due to the parking garage).

Anonymous said...

It's really a beautiful building ... great job!

I've seen it a number of times over the years. This bldg and the new SS library are going to give Silver Spring a new unique look.

Hopefully other similar type buildings will follow.


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