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Vol. LXVI, No. 16
August 1, 2014
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Architect Revisits NIEHS Campus He Helped Create More Than 30 Years Ago

Architect Richard Banks designed the Rall Bldg. (l) to work with the environment, a quality that has kept the building fresh for more than three decades. NIEHS Special Assistant for Community Engagement and Outreach John Schelp (l) joins (from l) Richard, Marilyn and Erik Banks on the balcony outside NIEHS director Dr. Linda Birnbaum’s office, which offers a view of how the master plan for the campus has come to life.
Architect Richard Banks designed the Rall Bldg. (l) to work with the environment, a quality that has kept the building fresh for more than three decades. At right, NIEHS Special Assistant for Community Engagement and Outreach John Schelp (l) joins (from l) Richard, Marilyn and Erik Banks on the balcony outside NIEHS director Dr. Linda Birnbaum’s office, which offers a view of how the master plan for the campus has come to life.

More than three decades after the NIEHS campus was completed, lead design architect Richard Banks paid his first visit to learn how his brainchild has flourished over the years.

Over lunch in the NIEHS cafeteria recently, Banks described his concept for Bldg. 101, also known as the Rall Bldg. Banks emphasized the support he received from former NIEHS director Dr. David Rall.

“He was a great champion of the design of this building,” Banks said. “He was behind it all the way.”

The Rall Bldg.’s green and fit retrofit team included (from l) Debra Del Corral, Joseph Seufert III and Amanda Thompson. They helped cut overall construction costs by 30-40 percent by eliminating multiple project phases. Other efficiencies saved at least $160,000. The project improved space utilization by eliminating passageways and optimizing layouts.

The Rall Bldg.’s green and fit retrofit team included (from l) Debra Del Corral, Joseph Seufert III and Amanda Thompson. They helped cut overall construction costs by 30-40 percent by eliminating multiple project phases. Other efficiencies saved at least $160,000. The project improved space utilization by eliminating passageways and optimizing layouts.

Photos: Steve McCaw

According to Banks, it was an uphill struggle to retain several pioneering elements, unusual in government buildings at the time, such as the interstitial spaces between floors that allow access to utilities without disrupting work in the labs and offices.

“The mandate was flexibility, and our response was a systems building, modular in concept,” he said. “We proved to them that it would be much more economical to do away with the corridors behind the labs and service them from above,” Banks said. “They were very skeptical…[but] finally they came over to our side.”

Among the innovations Banks introduced to the young institute were centralized glassware and media operations and mail distribution, all housed in a mall-like area. When completed, the Rall Bldg. was so far ahead of its time that location scouts for Woody Allen’s science fiction parody Sleeper seriously considered it as a set for the film.

Banks is gratified to see how well his creation has aged. “For a building that’s [almost] 40 years old, I am shocked by how good a condition it’s in,” he said of his progeny. “Usually, you don’t find that in a government building.”

Carrying forward the vision of a building that works both for its occupants and its environment, the NIEHS green and fit retrofit team—which oversaw a recent renovation of part of the building—was named a 2014 HHS Green Champion. The team, led by Debra Del Corral and Amanda Thompson of the NIEHS Office of Management and Joseph Seufert III of the NIH Office of Research Facilities, won a Sustainable Design and Facilities Award.—Eddy Ball


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