Central atrium inside Allen Institute.  Photo: Anthony Bolante/Puget Sound Business Journal

Science, art, and efficiency integrate seamlessly, not unlike our own left and right brains, in the architecture and structure of The Allen Institute building, located near the southwest bank of Lake Union. The large, LED-driven installation on the exterior façade, which is based upon neural brain activity and perception, transitions between colors and layered images. And among other unique building features is the engineering marvel of corralling existing mineral springs so a building could reliably stand on the site. The Allen Institute at 615 Westlake Ave. N. encompasses three entities: the Allen Institute for Brain Science, Allen Institute for Cell Science and Paul G. Allen Frontiers.

Allen Institute exterior. Photo: Lara Swimmer Photography

According to Puget Sound Business Journal, philanthropist Paul Allen’s 270,000 square foot, 7-story building has now won two awards from Engineering News-Record: ENR Northwest’s “Project of the Year” and Best “Higher Education/Research” project. Only 20 real estate developments were given commendations this year for any “Best of the Best” category. The two awards mentioned were given to the Allen Institute, in ENR’s words, “for achieving the promise of a collaborative concept, overcoming dewatering and structural challenges, and preserving a historical site.”

Dewatering? Structural challenges? What historical site? Well, “dewatering” refers to the mineral springs mentioned earlier; they bubbled up during initial excavation, which had to be addressed so the structure of the building wouldn’t buckle. Especially since the P4 parking garage is 34 feet below water level. Through a series of dewatering wells built during construction and careful monitoring over time of water pressure on shoring walls (more than 100 of them), the team was able to determine that the structure would hold. Because of a clever treatment system that filters the ground water so efficiently that it is released into Lake Union cleaner than the actual lake water, the WA Department of Ecology approved it.

Looking east toward Lake Union.

The integrity of the former Ford and Pacific McKay car showrooms on-site, designated as a historic landmark, needed to be considered. Pioneer Masonry catalogued, disassembled, and stored any protected components from the buildings, especially the terra-cotta façade which was later reassembled using a virtual 3D model made previously. The new building was built to wrap around the older ones.

The new Allen Institute building wraps around historic car showrooms.

The interior of the facility has interesting features as well. Studio SC built the external public artwork called “Pathways” that adorns the exterior, but also provided wayfinding graphics/ signage within the building. The central atrium of the building is built to promote easy access between labs and offices, between co-workers in different departments. The excess heat produced by the data center, which stores a huge amount of information, is effectively re-routed to provide heating and cooling for the building. Besides the data center, the institute also has wet and dry labs, an electron microscopy area, auditorium, and a center for education.

Studio SC’s public art installation “Pathways”, exterior.  Photo: Lara Swimmer Photography

Paul Allen, who initially made his fortune as co-founder of Microsoft, began this non-profit in 2003 to study the workings of the brain in an “open science” model (greatly simplified, meaning easier access to scientific knowledge and research). An interesting link to explore, the Allen Brain Atlas, gives a peek into the depth of what is studied here.

 

Owner/Developer: Vulcan Inc.
General Contractor: GLY
Lead Design/Architect Firm: Perkins+Will
Subcontractors: BOLA Architecture + Planning; Candela; Sparling; Coughlin Porter Lundeen; McKinstry; Affiliated Engineers NW; Valley Electric; GeoEngineers; Pioneer Masonry

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