"It was a matter of reinventing ourselves at a time when other firms were struggling," says Miller.

HDR Inc.'s 2008 acquisition of Princeton, N.J.-based CUH2A proved pivotal, bolstering the firm's expertise in science and technology and setting the stage for the Chicago office to pursue projects such as Argonne.

"By that time, we'd begun cross-training our staff to work on both health care and laboratory projects," says Miller. "When the health care market tanked, we slid right into lab work such as Argonne."

Its experience in health care helped the firm secure RIC in a joint venture with architect Gensler of Chicago, which is well versed in the design of high-rises. "While preparing our submission, we didn't play in each others playgrounds," says Miller.

"What really differentiated their submission was the consideration they had given to our desire to unite clinical treatment and research in a single setting, as a day-to-day approach to patient rehabilitation, which is something that has never been done before," says Edward Case, RIC executive vice president.

As designers flesh out details for the facility, which could rise as high as 40 stories when completed in 2016, RIC is testing new concepts in a renovated floor of its existing facility. "As RIC gains experience with this new integrated model of science and care, we'll use that knowledge to inform our design process," says Abbie Clary, HDR principal in charge, who leads the firm's health care program in the Midwest and Rocky Mountain regions. "We all recognize the new building creates tremendous new possibilities."

Though it has no shortage of work in its backyard, the office has begun dispatching experts in federal, civic, lab and correctional health projects to assist other regional offices in executing projects, or to execute projects the office has been awarded on its own. In addition to California, Maryland, New Mexico and Washington state, key staff have traveled to Canada, Italy, Korea and Australia.

"It's been fun watching it all happen," says Miller.