Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory outside of Batavia, Ill., is a Dept. of Energy national lab specializing in high-energy particle physics. Before the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, Switzerland, was completed in 2008, Fermilab had the world’s most powerful particle accelerator.
Fermilab’s brutalist Wilson Hall was completed in 1971. While it is still an entirely functional engineering and laboratory building, the kind of collaboration that both Fermilab and DoE want for the next 50 years required adding a new building with a collaborative design approach. By 2017, Fermilab’s 1,750 scientists, engineers and other employees needed something new.
“Wilson Hall is the main 16-story office tower that’s the workhorse for collaboration, for meetings, for getting people together and working on projects,” says Brian Rubik, Fermilab’s project manager and in-house structural engineer. “That was completed in the early seventies. There’s been a lot of development and newer workplace practices to create effective collaboration and things of that nature in the ensuing decades. So, to have the laboratory go this long without really an update for people’s workspaces and collaboration, it’s certainly needed.”
A New Collaboration
In 2017, Perkins and Will and Arup won a DoE design competition for an $56-million new building called the Integrated Engineering Research Center. The two-story building is connected to Wilson Hall at the ground floor and will deliver 80,000 sq ft of offices, workspaces and testing labs. Three east-west corridors are used as a device to create distinct workspace neighborhoods. To support each lab, an equipment chase sits next to it, allowing noisy, heat-producing equipment to be near, but also outside of the lab itself.
“The [Fermilab scientists] are ... working through how they are going to perform experiments, and we had to gather that information from the users,” says Adana Johns, associate principal in Perkins and Will’s science and technology practice. “It becomes very speculative. ‘How are you working now? How are you going to be working this with this experiment? What does that space then need to be?’ When you look at the floor plans, it really does show that this is a highly modular, flexible working environment.”
The Perkins + Will team’s plan sought to maximize flexibility for wherever science may take particle physics over the next 50 years.
“They needed this incredible adaptable, flexible framework to give them all these opportunities,” says Tom Mozina, design principal at Perkins and Will’s Chicago office. “The ground level project labs have all been designed as high-bay spaces and outfitted with overhead cranes to assist in moving heavy equipment in support of their research. This strategy of openness and flexibility was a means of trying to future-proof the labs because it is hard to anticipate where the science is going to take them.”
Ground was broken last summer, and contractor Mortenson first had to remove and reorganize existing underground infrastructure. A horseshoe-shaped entry drive and an 5-ft-tall raised berm that is a radiation shield for Fermilab’s 1.25-mile-dia Tevatron beam line for the underground particle accelerator both had to be reconfigured.
“We actually had to take overburden off of the beam line,” says Carl Kreiter, project executive at Mortenson. “In doing that, there is shielding that is specifically required and engineered by Fermilab’s radiation group. So we had to put in new shielding, which is really steel plating that is several inches thick. That way we could safely eliminate overburden and then create a new driveway over the active beam line. And then create that drive over the berm.”
Industrial chilled water, electrical and communication infrastructure and stormwater tunnels had to be reconfigured. Fermilab’s engineers gave Mortenson drawings to show how to stagger the joints in the steel shielding plates to create layers that made their installation akin to putting puzzle pieces together. Foundation and steel erection work began in winter 2020.
“We were bounded by Wilson Hall to the west and an active particle accelerator beam line that runs adjacent to our site along the eastern bound,” says Aaron Tabares, electrical engineer in Arup’s Chicago office. “The form of the building is rather narrow and long [420 ft long by 113 ft wide], which is a direct result of the impact of these existing facilities.”
Tabares says that one of the distribution features of the building is that it has a spine of utilities that run between all of the project labs on the ground floor.
“That’s basically the [electrical, piping and mechanical] highway,” he said. “If Fermilab needs to modify the spaces in the future, they have a main artery running through the center of building to leverage.”
Interior spans were planned so that large lab spaces could be column free. The building’s narrowness allowed a whole building daylighting strategy. Arup ran several iterations of energy models with Perkins and Will to determine the most efficient envelope possible. Shading structures and exterior facade components were designed by Perkins and Will based off the impacts of those features in the energy model. Flexibility for the future was extended to the building’s systems.
“It’s a matter of taking standards and codes, considering them and applying them where they’re appropriate, but also using engineering judgment coupled with performance-based design to say ‘the owner has defined actual function, so we should design based on their real usage,’” Tabares said.
“A lot of [the mechanical strategies] are controls based,” he said. “The equipment is sized for the worst case scenario, but control schemes create the operational building intelligence that yields the most energy efficient configuration for the present while providing a flexible system that is capable of being easily modified to accommodate future use cases.”