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UT Health Science Center unveils new research building
October 19, 2011












Hallways curve inside the new South Texas Research Facility at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio that opens Oct. 13, 2011. Photo: San Antonio Express-News, Tom Reel.

By Jennifer Hiller, San Antonio Express-News

It is a long, long walk through what must be San Antonio's most linear building. And that's the point.

The sleek South Texas Research Facility, which opens today at the University of Texas Health Science Center, stretches nearly the length of three football fields - a deliberate design to keep most of the researchers on one floor and talking to each other.

"It's designed to promote collaboration," said James Kazen, executive vice president of facilities and operations at the Health Science Center. "We wanted one floor and big, open areas."

The $144 million building uses an open laboratory design and has centrally located shared facilities such as tissue culture rooms. Everything is located along a central corridor that unfurls like a ribbon.

The modern design by New York-based Uruguayan architect Rafael Viñoly curves in an arc that helps disguise its size on the exterior and makes it feel less institutional inside. "The curve is so important," Viñoly said. "It breaks the perception of a really long corridor."

At about 188,000 square feet, Viñoly said, the narrow building is distinctive not for its size but for the fact that it's just three stories with labs clustered on one floor.

"Normally, these buildings are built multistory," Viñoly said. "People think erroneously that the level of interaction can be the same through elevators, and I think not. People just walk more comfortably horizontally than through mechanical means."

Bringing daylight into the labs was another focus. Thanks to a relatively narrow footprint, a continuous band of windows and the use of transoms on the interior, natural light filters into labs and offices. Workers should be able to easily glimpse views of treetops, sky or other buildings in the South Texas Medical Center.

A plaza uses a geometric patchwork of rock, brick and native plants to connect the building with the Greehey Children's Cancer Research Institute.

"The possibility of having a view is very important for people who are concentrating on the minute," Viñoly said.

The building will be only 50 percent to 60 percent occupied at its opening, with researchers in cancer, neurosciences and health aging moving in starting Friday.

David Weiss, vice president for research at the Health Science Center, said the new building will be a recruiting tool, along with the idea that interaction can generate more ideas and discoveries. "The idea is applying discoveries to cures and connecting labs with clinical research," Weiss said.

The roof and some of the parking spaces are covered in solar panels, which were paid for through federal stimulus money. The 758 panels should save the university about $15,000 a year, or 210,000 kilowatt-hours.

The city contributed $3.3 million to the project through a grant in which 15 percent of the Health Science Center's profits derived from start-up companies spun off by the facility's research will be returned to the city's Economic Development Corp. Other money includes $60 million in tuition revenue bonds, $40 million from the Permanent University Fund and $40.7 million in gifts and grants.

The building is at 8403 Floyd Curl Drive. Vaughn Construction was the contractor.


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