Electrical Engineering
Energy & Sustainability
Mechanical Engineering
Project Size
210,870 sq. ft.
Completion Date
Project Cost
Client Contact
John Keedy University of Michigan

When the IDS architects and engineers began working on the University of Michigan G.G. Brown Laboratories, little did they know they would become custom environmental chamber designers! This Mechanical Engineering facility on north campus boasts world class nanotechnology research. The first phase of the development is a new building addition which includes 13 research labs utilizing shared lab facilities and an ultra-low vibration laboratory suite, featuring eight specialized test chambers designed to NIST-A vibration standards. This kind of experimentation demands extreme exacting standards and requires stringent temperature, sound and vibration control. The second phase of the project includes a total renovation of the existing building 117,000-square-foot undergraduate facility in great need of infrastructure updates, including primary mechanical systems, code upgrades, new classrooms and 27,400-square-feet of newly appointed instructional labs and support spaces. The new building is slated for completion by mid-2014 with the renovation being completed in 2016.
The new three-story building will support the intersection of Mechanical Engineering and Nanometer-scale Science and Technology. The overall design is characterized by a balance of mass, transparency and lightness providing a modern connection to the existing G.G. Brown Building. The combined composition of masonry, glass and metal puts a new face on the UofM Mechanical Engineering (ME) Department. A three-story galleria provides access, visual orientation and natural light. It also links the second and third levels with a bridge to the research laboratories in the new addition and the teaching and research spaces in the existing building. Informal seating, display areas and plasma screens are provided in the main gallery to promote interaction by meaningful collisions and cross-pollination of ideas. An internal sense of community for the ME program and College was also created. The west facade features an art wall equipped with an LED light array proposed to display abstracted images of works by ME to draw attention and attract students and the public to the building. Skylights provide maximum daylight penetration. The exterior envelope combines a custom-patterned precast concrete system intended to mimic limestone with a series of faceted silver aluminum and clear glass window units.
To develop the interior space, the IDS team did a careful investigation of function, layout, materials, finishes and furniture. The result is a compelling visual character for the interior lab, office and public spaces. The first floor south walls are defined as a series of interactive walls, with whiteboards, display cabinets and plasma screens to support undergraduate group learning activities, as well as informal gathering. The display elements are portable so that they can help facilitate larger functions. The lab area is a combination of elements lightwood panels, blue colored glass, clear glass, and silver metal to create a sense of order out of the relatively random expression of the functional layouts. The underside of the balconies along the north side of the galleria is lined with linear light wood grille panels that follow the angle of the ceiling to provide acoustical treatment and warmth.
Dick DeBeliso, Executive Mechanical Engineer and Mark McPartlin, Project Manager and Architect reflect on the process and flow of this unique project.
Describe the scope of the project?
DEBELISO: Our success in developing the eight environmental test chambers is how we will be judged on this project. Each chamber can have no sound intrusion, no vibration intrusion and no temperature fluctuations. The researchers use cutting edge technology to perform subatomic measurements using lasers with great precision. When they publish their research, it must be repeatable.
MCPARTLIN: We are also doing extensive vibration testing on the building foundation at different grade levels to consider how everything from road noise to footsteps in the building will affect conditions in these chambers. We created an atrium space that will connect the existing building with the new building. This allows us to place the new building farther away from the ambient noise and vibrations generated by daily use of the existing building.
DEBELISO: The second part of the project is the renovation of the existing building, a portion of which will be totally gutted. There will be a total renovation of the primary mechanical HVAC infrastructure, new undergraduate instructional space, and extensive cosmetic updates to diminish the sense of transition from the new addition to the existing building.
What were the biggest challenges of this project?
DEBELISO: At IDS, we specialize in successfully integrating the services provided by national specialty consultants into the architecture and engineering of the building on a local level. This project has been challenging in just keeping the team together. The G.G. Brown researchers have been demanding, and rightfully so, and have actually dismissed two outside lab and sound consultants because they could not justify their recommendations with empirical, back-up calculations. One of the important elements of this project has been our ability to manage national consultants who are in this world-class category, and then to integrate their technology and expertise into the project.
MCPARTLIN: There are some very challenging, exacting requirements from the professors and scientists. We are doing things that have never been done before by outside experts or the University of Michigan.
DEBELISO: Eight ultra-low vibration environmental chambers were included in the program. The Principal Investigators responsible for these read about high accuracy temperature control systems in a white paper published by two university researchers in another state and wanted to include such in their project. We traveled to that university, toured their facility and discussed their operation with them at length. What we found was that when they actually commissioned their facility, they determined that it could not perform as published. So we convinced UofM to invest upwards of $1 million for us to design and build a custom mock-up of one of these chambers so that we could pilot the prototype HVAC system controls to achieve the desired criteria (temperature control tolerance in the chamber of plus or minus 0.1 degree C from setpoint). After months of testing, system design refinement and commissioning, the desired temperature control criteria were accomplished.
What was unique about this project?
DEBELISO: UofM’s College of Engineering wanted to have an image that identified the Mechanical Engineering Department and gave it a real presence. We have created a recognizable entry that utilizes a large three-story atrium space. We have also designed an exterior wall featuring a large-scale LED matrix that will display abstract images from the actual research that is being conducted in the building.
MCPARTLIN: The College of Engineering requested a new approach to the way the general labs in the building were configured, with an emphasis on shared facilities and collaboration.
Talk about the sustainable qualities of the structure.
DEBELISO: We have the opportunity to implement many new systems and building elements that will result in LEED certification points. The University required the addition project to attain LEED Silver certification; we believe there is a possibility to attain Gold-level certification.
MCPARTLIN: We project this project’s energy performance will be at least 40% better than ASHRAE’s Z-90.1 standard.
DEBELISO: We have even introduced a concept of utilizing chilled water to be more efficient in the way we heat the building. A photovoltaic system on the roof is designed to offset one-percent of annual total building energy costs, and we have also utilized solar panels for heating the domestic hot water used in the building.
What are your thoughts about the project today?
DEBELISO: It’s an exciting opportunity to manage a team of experts like this and truly develop cutting-edge research facilities.
MCPARTLIN: We believe we succeeded in our goal of creating a world-class research facility that serves as a recognizable front door to UofM’s Mechanical Engineering Department.

Project Overview

New construction of a cutting-edge, mechanical engineering University science lab complex with exacting nanotechnology measurement standards and 8 ultra-low vibration chambers to measure the space between atoms. The design creates a more recognizable on-campus presence for the College of Engineering using a giant LED wall showing abstract samples of active lab work.

Project Team

Mechanical Engineer
Design Partner
Perkins + Will
Laboratory Planner
Jacobs Consultancy
General Contractor