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In Detail> Penn Medicine
Rafael Vinoly's designs for Translational Research Center
The Transitional Research Center's interior functions are expressed in the detailing of the facade.
Rafael Vinoly Architects

In what must be record time, the University of Pennsylvania Health System and the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine (collectively known as Penn Medicine) have recently completed the second phase of the Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine. Even before the construction workers were done with the first phase of the center—occupied in October 2008—the university cleared funding for and kicked design off on part two in February 2007. Known as the Penn Medicine Translational Research Center, this 14-story tower expands the existing facility by 531,000 square feet. It is called “translational” because the addition not only continues the clinical programming of the Perelman Center on its first three levels, it also incorporates research functions on the upper floors of the tower. These include wet and dry laboratories and their support spaces, as well as two levels of vivariums—special enclosures prepared for keeping animals in semi-natural conditions for observation and study.

Rafael Viñoly Architects, the design architect for the Perelman Center, was retained for the addition, which had been anticipated in the master plan that Viñoly drafted with Perkins Eastman. That master plan established the Perelman Center as a U-shaped building around a central, north-facing, glass-enclosed atrium that would serve as the nexus of all subsequent phases. Those phases were planned for the western, southern, and eastern faces of Perelman. Translational Research was given the western face, a site already crowded with the Roberts Proton Therapy Center, an underground concrete bunker filled with accelerators and other equipment needed to create proton beams used to treat cancer.

The Translational Research Center From the northWest(left), and SouthWest (right).
Courtesy Penn Medicine

Since the addition of Translational Research had been part of the master plan, the foundation and structure of Roberts required only minimal fit-out modifications to accept the loads of the new tower—an additional caisson here and there. However, this underground facility, which occupied the entire basement space, further motivated an unusual programming decision. The vivariums—usually housed in subterranean chambers where ingress and egress can be made more discreetly and the animals are insulated from the disturbances of noise and light—were moved above grade to floors six and seven. To ensure the right level of privacy and separation, the architects included express elevator service that bypasses the clinical floors, providing a direct, non-stop route from the loading docks to the laboratory levels.

The arrangement of the addition’s interior functions is plainly legible in the articulation of the facade. The first two floors, which house public features such as the lobby, a café, and a 212-seat auditorium, are clad in a mixture of glass and composite metal and laminated thermoplastic panel elements. Above these, the three floors of clinical spaces continue the expression of the existing Perelman Center’s clinical floors, with precast concrete spandrels and strip windows. Above this volume is a mechanical level, clad with aluminum louvers. From there up, the building is encased in a unitized curtain wall system of 6mm Alucobond aluminum panels treated with a No. 2 coat Duranar PVDF finish, and more glass. The vivarium levels are expressed with narrow, 18-inch high strip windows that allow controlled daylight into the circulation and staff spaces (the animals’ accommodations are not served by the windows), whereas the lab levels feature normal strip windows and Alucobond spandrels. All of the glass used in the project is Viracon Crystal Grey, 1-inch-thick insulated units treated with a low-e coating.



In its lower, clinical floors, Translational Research uses the same 30-by-30-foot-square structural steel grid as was used in the Perelman Center. Designed with structural engineering firm Thornton Tomasetti, this modular arrangement of bays provides an optimum amount of open space for the facility’s healthcare needs. It also offers flexibility to accommodate any future reconfiguration. That grid, however, was modified to provide wider bays for laboratories on the research floors. Large transfer trusses above the mechanical floor transition the 90-foot-wide volume of the clinical floors to the 120-foot-wide volume of the research floors.

Penn Medicine’s decision to fast track the Translational Research Center before the Perelman Center was finished allowed the new facility to be integrated with the ongoing construction. While this created the challenge of managing multiple out-of-sequence bid packages, it also allowed the projects to share many of the mechanical services, loading docks, street lights, site preparations, and even part of the zoning review, thereby reducing overall costs.



Aaron Seward



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