+ The expanding perimeter institute for theoretical physics wanted an advanced, functional and comfortable space that would encourage discovery. By Staci Davidson
“It's been gratifying to see it all come together, and it will be even more exciting to see people use it the way we have planned.”
Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics – stephen hawking centre
Location: Waterloo, Ontario
Scope: Expansion of a scientific research facility
Having spent more than 40 years in scientific research, primarily in the areas of theoretical cosmology and quantum gravity, Stephen Hawking very well may be the world's most famous scientist. He's received the Copley Medal from the Royal Society of London, the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Order of the British Empire and various other awards and honors from around the world. Additionally, many universities and organizations want to name structures after a man of such renown, but he doesn't lend his name easily. An exception is the new wing of Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.
The Perimeter Institute (PI) began in 2001, after mike lazaridis, founder and co-CEO of Research in Motion, personally decided he could help foster research and innovation in Canada by establishing an independent world-class institute devoted to theoretical physics. Since then, in combination with public partners from the governments of Ontario and Canada, as well as the region and city of Waterloo, the Perimeter Institute has grown to have nearly 100 resident researchers, and hosts hundreds of international experts each year through its scientific visitor program. The center's focus is at the intersection of quantum theory and spacetime, with multi-disciplinary research drawing from such fields as cosmology, particle physics, quantum foundations, quantum gravity, quantum information theory, superstring theory and related areas.
Stephen Hawking is a Distinguished Research Chair at the institute, and the Stephen Hawking Centre at Perimeter Institute will be an extension of its current facility. It will double the research space, providing for approximately 250 residents and hundreds of scientific visitors each year – making PI the largest institute in the world devoted to fundamental questions in theoretical physics. When building a structure with such an international role and respected namesake, it is important for the design to make a statement. When PI opened its permanent facility in 2004, its goal was to create a landmark building – function ally and aesthetically – to attract and retain the best researchers in the world. The institute has the same high standards for the Stephen Hawking Centre. “We broke ground in July 2009, but we started planning the project back in May 2008,” Project Manager Brian Lasher says. “Our request for proposals went to architects nationwide – we wanted a good team player that would listen to our ideas. It wasn't that we were after a specific design – we wanted an architect that would listen to us and address the issues we had in our current building.”
To start, PI wanted a defined entrance in the new facility. “It's difficult to find the entrance in our current location,” Lasher notes. The institute also wanted improved kitchen and dining facilities to support the full range of scientific events, plus expanded collaboration areas and seminar rooms that could be adapted for different interdisciplinary group sizes. Overall, PI wanted the new center to have a better atmosphere, be more comfortable and define Ontario as a global hub for theoretical physics.
“We wanted as much natural light as possible to get to the offices and common areas,” Lasher explains. “We are going for LEED Silver certification, so we're trying to remain environmentally responsible. The new space is 55,000 square feet in size, but we have not increased the overall footprint of the institute very much. We are utilizing the space under our current facility's green roof, which previously was used as parking. The project team has done a fantastic job of utilizing the space we had.”
In the four-story Stephen Hawking Centre at Perimeter Institute, “research pods” are designed like triangles, and there will be five in a group. These spaces will be on the building's north side, so they can take best advantage of natural light and heat. Also, the café was moved to the first floor to be more user-friend ly. The most prominent element, Lasher says, will be a circulation spine connecting the floors. “It's gorgeous with a lot of angles and clear glass above it,” he notes, so it will be lit with natural light.
The expansion will provide PI with 81 research spaces to accommodate an additional 140 scientists, a large training centre for 50 emerging scientists each year, four new informal meeting spaces, and four presentation spaces for formal seminars. The Stephen Hawking Centre is being seamlessly integrated with the existing facility, Lasher notes.
“Teeple Architects are keeping a lot of the original architecture as is, but they're bringing something new to the existing space,” he says. “The design is functional and appropriate for a theoretical physics facility, but it also is very beautiful.”
Putting the Space to Use
The project team includes construction manager Ball Construction of Kitchener, Ontario, and Teeple Architects of Toronto. Both firms have been involved in planning from the outset, and are scheduled to deliver the facility in March 2011 for occupation in June or July.
“It's been a very interesting process so far, and enjoyable,” Lasher stresses. “The time we spent on preparation has made this job successful. During our planning, we gathered information from all of the user groups to find out what they needed and wanted, and the time we spent on design has paid off with minimal changes during construction.”
Construction of the building envelope is on schedule, he says, and the biggest obstacle coming up is the integration of the audio/visual and IT equipment and systems once the construction is done. To prepare for this, PI and the project team have been working with an audio/visual consultant to ensure the building's infrastructure can handle all of the necessary technological systems.
By using its experience from constructing PI's current building a few years ago, the project team is confident the Stephen Hawking Centre at Perimeter Institute will meet all of PI's global communication needs, including multimedia archiving of scientific talks, distant collaboration technologies and public outreach presentation capabilities.
“It's important to remember that no one really builds for the future – IT advances all the time, and you can't really plan for that,” Lasher says. “We learned that lesson when we were building our current facility, so we've made provisions in the new space to expand or easily accommodate new technology.”
This was news that Stephen Hawking himself was happy to hear when he visited the project site in June, Lasher notes. “Our field of theoretical physics has been the most successful and cost-effective in all of science,” Hawking said during his visit. “Where would we be today without Newton, Maxwell and Einstein? Many great challenges lie ahead. Where this new understanding will lead, is impossible to say for sure. What we can say with confidence is that expanding the perimeter of our knowledge will be the key to our future.” During the famed scientist's visit, Lasher led Hawking through the new site and says Hawking was impressed with the space utilization and dedicated areas for collaboration and discussion. Lasher says he was proud to see Hawking “smiling quite a bit” in the new space.
“I was very fortunate to be a part of the team on the first building,” he says. “This expansion is unique, but it's not extravagant. It's been great to see a difficult design come together with great architecture and beautiful features. It's been gratifying to see it all come together, and it will be even more exciting to see people use it. We've exhausted every possible use of this building, so it will be fun to see it filled up.”