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Campus Building Like No Other
New Porter Neuroscience Facility Will Be One of World's Largest

By Carla Garnett

On the Front Page...

The soon-to-be-built John Edward Porter Neuroscience Research Center will be like no other building on campus, because of the unique interinstitute cooperation of the investigators who will conduct research in the building, according to NIMH director Dr. Steve Hyman. Hyman, along with former NINDS director Dr. Gerald Fischbach, initiated the concept for the new laboratory building in discussions with former NIH director Dr. Harold Varmus.


"It quickly became clear that the goal of overcoming the fragmentation of neuroscience on campus required a new building," Hyman recalls. "The existing buildings, especially Bldg. 36, were past their useful lives and were designed based on cinder block modules. Modern science depends on communication and shared cores — the very antithesis of the existing space.

"The contiguity of the labs will be based on shared scientific interests rather than institute," he explains. "Thus, for example, a planned neurogenetics community might be comprised of groups from as many as seven institutes. This critical mass will permit the efficient use of modern core facilities and above all, should benefit postdocs by creating a very rich environment for interaction."

The new Porter labs will occupy 560,000 gross square feet, or approximately the same space as three Bldg. 36s. In the rendering above, the completed Neuroscience Center has already replaced the current Bldg. 36 and occupies the entire southwest corner of campus near Old Georgetown Rd. and Lincoln Dr. Not shown is the glass atrium that will be the facility's centerpiece.

Far different from the Neuroscience Center on Executive Blvd., which houses extramural staff for NIMH, NINDS and NIDA, the new campus facility will house intramural researchers from many more ICs. There will be large, open laboratory areas on the building's upper levels, which will consist of more than 210,000 square feet of bench laboratory, lab support and lab office space. Additionally, a large vivarium will meet the need for animal support.

Among the public areas in the facility, a prominent feature of the Porter Bldg.'s design is a five-story glass atrium with numerous places for researchers to gather in the course of a normal day. Other features include a 400-seat auditorium, a cafeteria, a self-service supply store, a snack stand and a coffee bar. Several small meeting rooms — facilities sorely lacking in many of the campus's existing lab buildings — are also slated for the structure.

Project Manager Bob McDonald

"The concept of the new building is to bring together nine or 10 institutes or centers that have components that study neuroscience," explains Bob McDonald, a mechanical engineer who retired from the Commissioned Corps some years ago, but recently returned to NIH when he landed the position as Porter Bldg. project manager in the Office of Research Services' Design, Construction and Alteration Branch. "The building's design promotes interaction and collaboration. It literally forces people into chance encounters in the hallways, in the atrium, in the lobbies. This will be one of the largest neuroscience research facilities in the world. By putting so many investigators together, we hope the building will promote natural synergy, those serendipitous interactions that can lead to groundbreaking research."

Besides NIMH and NINDS, ICs most likely to have investigators working in the Porter Bldg. include NIA, NICHD, NHGRI, NIDCD, NEI, NCI, NIDA and NIAAA.

"This building will foster a much more collaborative environment," notes NINDS Executive Officer Kevin Kirby. "Organized by such research themes as neurodegeneration or mood and cognition, instead of by institute, our objective is to build a model for how modern neuroscience gets done."

Construction will consist of two phases, with completion of the whole lab facility by spring 2007. Site preparation and demolition of Bldg. 35 —the first steps toward construction of phase I of the new neuroscience center — began during the first week of October; phase I is expected to be completed by early 2004. The second phase will require the demolition of Bldg. 36. All told, the new Porter labs will occupy 560,000 gross square feet, or approximately the same space as three Bldg. 36s.

Decades of talent and experience are represented in the planning of the new building, McDonald continues. The overall project management contract was awarded in fall 2000 to Higgins Development Partners, a subsidiary of the prominent Pritzker Realty Group of Chicago, well known in the art and design realms for its sponsorship of the Pritzker Prize, a prestigious award in the world of architecture. The Whiting-Turner Co. will handle construction of the building.

Andrea Lamberti, project manager for Raphael Viñoly, the architect designing the Porter Bldg., shows a model of the new facility as seen from its front side.

About 50 people currently frequent the project's suite of construction trailers stationed off South Drive and Old Georgetown Road; all are involved in the management, design, development and construction of the facility. McDonald estimates that there are special designers for nearly every aspect, from mechanical, electrical and plumbing and structural engineers to kitchen and dining facility planners.

In addition, internationally renowned New York architect Raphael Viñoly crafted the building's design. His recently acclaimed projects include Princeton University's Genomics Laboratory in New Jersey, the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, and the Samsung Cultural and Education Center in Seoul, Korea.

"The local community, NIH's neighbors and the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission have all been very supportive and enthusiastic about the new building, in part because of the architectural quality of the project," notes McDonald.

The budget for the building is $261 million, and is accounted for in NIH's buildings and facilities budget. Construction is also being "fast-tracked," he notes. That means the project is divided into parcels, with construction beginning on the first parcel before completion of the design of the remaining parcels. For example, demolition and foundation can begin before details about other parts of the structure have been nailed down. Continuity on the project is maintained on NIH's end by McDonald and overall contractor Higgins.

According to Kirby, the building was named in honor of former House of Representatives appropriations committee chair Porter, who retired from Congress earlier this year and is widely regarded as one of NIH's "best friends ever in Congress" and who has shown throughout his career a "particular interest in neuroscience research."

Not only will the nine or 10 ICs share space in the new building, Kirby points out, but all core facilities will be shared as well. This will present a unique administrative challenge. Investigators in the building will continue to be paid by their respective ICs, but a plan for other business aspects — answers to such questions as "Which IC will supply support staff?" "Who will pay for shared supplies?" "How will other so-called shared expenses be divided among participants?" — has yet to be determined. Also up in the air at the moment is just who, among intramuralists conducting neuroscience research, will be assigned to the new building.

Hyman says the scientific directors from every participating IC are currently working on a proposal to identify possible investigators. "The key factor will be how the investigator would fit with the planned themes of the building," he says.

According to Kirby, 200 principal investigators are involved in neuroscience across NIH, including clinical programs. The new facility will have space for 100 of them.

"When this idea was first broached to Dr. Varmus and to the extramural community," Kirby remembers, "it was met with tremendous optimism."

"For the first time a program emphasis is being implemented in a major way," concludes McDonald, enthusiastically. "This building is about eliminating barriers between institutes, and striking a balance between competition and collegiality."

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