Construction industry firms have long followed science, designing and building structures that allow research to move from untested concept to proven reality. As 21st-Century R&D explodes in new directions, industry forces are taking a more active role in the still-unfolding market and technology adventure.

The promise of life science and nanotechnology R&D to improve the quality of life has generated a new rush for bricks-and-mortar testing and manufacturing facilities. Federal agencies have more expansive funding missions, while corporate developers speed new products to market. Universities want glitzy facilities to vie for research dollars and "name" scientists, while municipalities see high- tech "parks" as a more acceptable economic development lure than casinos. Participants are linking up fast to share research, project development and perhaps, most importantly, funding.

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"Customers want to convince Wall Street and investors that they’re serious about high technology," says Alain Kaloyeros, vice president of the new College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering at the State University of New York-Albany. There, the state, along with federal and private interests, is pumping in billions of dollars to build a 750,000-sq-ft R&D showplace (ENR 2/3/03 p. 33). "We wanted to make a signature statement."

TRADING SPACES Clean rooms and other R&D spaces must accommodate both individual and group activities. (Photo left courtesy of HDR; illustration above by Guy Lawrence for ENR)

The new parameters of 21st- Century R&D are also changing the way engineers and constructors do their jobs. "Researchers are 24/7 people who don’t want to commute a lot and want to be near a university environment," says Atlanta-based architect Laura Heery.

Scientific collaboration is the watchword, as clean rooms and other spaces must accommodate both proprietary and more interdisciplinary research. More complex research processes, such as in submolecular nanotechnology, demand more from structures as well, says Mark Jamison, advanced technology manager at HDR Inc., Omaha. The vagaries of testing and commercialization often leave E&C firms with few specs to design and build on, but the process is also forcing project participants into new levels of collaboration. But there is some worry that the R&D phenomenon could suffer the same fate as the dot-com boom without careful market analysis.