Sustaining a Spirit of Inquiry

Brown University Labs and Prince Wind Tunnel
Providence, Rhode Island

Over the past few years, SMMA has been working with Brown University on several strategic renovations of science and engineering laboratories to meet their changing needs. Through the advantage of SMMA’s Providence-based office, the design team has been able to maintain a close relationship with Brown as they guarantee resiliency to lab spaces that date as far back as the 60s.

The designs and renovations driving each project focus not only on fortifying and continuing the life of the existing structures, but also on nurturing the science behind the labs. Each lab boasts of a unique legacy relating to Brown's professors and research, of which SMMA has promised to uphold.
  • GeoChem at Brown University.
  • GeoChem at Brown University.
  • GeoChem at Brown University.

The IPD Mindset

Geology and Chemistry Building

Built in 1982, Brown’s Geology and Chemistry Building is home to the Department of Earth, Environmental, and Planetary Sciences (DEEPS) and the Department of Chemistry. Dubbed GeoChem, the project focuses on upgrading the building’s mechanical infrastructure, fire protection/life safety systems, exterior envelope, and accessibility. It required renovations for nine geology labs and 18 chemistry labs to modernize and increase energy efficiency, as well as replacing the existing air handling equipment, chiller, and upgrading all equipment to direct digital controls. Through the creation of four hazardous occupancy rooms, supporting building system infrastructure, and the separation of chemical usage by floors into individual control areas, GeoChem was also able to accommodate additional chemical quantities on upper floors to meet current and future research demands.

The project was completed on an 18-month duration and included 10 separate phases, which were developed by project stakeholders to allow the Owner to maintain occupancy of the building during construction. All of this was accomplished by using an Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) contract, meaning that coordination played a key role since day one to ensure that all parties can work smarter and faster.

Flexible Environments

Engineering Research Center

Built in 2017 to accommodate the expansion of the School of Engineering, Brown’s Engineering Research Center (ERC) is located adjacent to the Barus and Holley complex, housing several high-tech research facilities. Since completion, SMMA has been working with the university as new Principal Investigators are hired to program and fit-out its research labs. To date, these labs have included a Mass Spectrometry Lab and a Laser Lab. Each of the labs has been designed to create flexible environments that can accommodate changing research demands. Sinks were pushed to the outside walls, ceilings were eliminated to allow easy access to utilities, and moveable lab casework on casters were fed from overhead service panels through plug-and-play utilities.

Brown University lab spaces and wind tunnel.
Brown University lab spaces and wind tunnel.

An Active Dialogue

Engineering Research Center

With evolving spaces comes evolving ideas: windows were installed to provide views from the public corridor into the research labs, allotting faculty and students the workplace visibility to engage in an active dialogue around new collaborations. In their infancy, the labs already give life to a large spectrum of research, including fluid mechanics, interfacial phenomena, microfluidics, nonlinear systems, soil and groundwater remediation, engineering nanomaterial fate and transport, and environmental toxicology. The project was programmed, designed, and constructed in six months to meet the schedule of the PI’s arrival to the university. With an energy performance goal 25% better than the minimum efficiency and performance criteria established in the Rhode Island-adopted International Energy Conservation Code, the fit-out followed LEED Gold energy savings protocols.


Designed for Longevity

Barus and Holley Building

Brown University’s Barus and Holley Building was first constructed in 1965, named for physicist and faculty member Carl Barus and engineer Alexander Lyman Holley. The 220,000 sf and seven-story building houses the School of Engineering and the Physics Department, including 117 laboratories, 150 offices, 15 classrooms, 29 laboratory classrooms, and three lecture halls. To date, SMMA has been working with Brown on several lab renovations to address the critical needs of these two facilities and to extend the capability of both in support of their current use. The fit-outs incorporate institutional flexibility among the lab spaces through mobile casework and exposed process utilities, allowing end-users to easily adapt to changing research needs.

Taking Flight

Prince Wind Tunnel

Adjacent to the Barus and Holley Building is the Prince Wind Tunnel, a state-of-the-art structure that is the result of the advancement and relocation of an existing tunnel. Enabling researchers to improve aerodynamics through animal flight observations and analysis, the tunnel is currently one of the most advanced wind tunnels in the country and one of the largest for animal flight study in the world. SMMA worked alongside Brown and AeroLab to program the wind tunnel with numerous advanced capabilities such as speed, pressure, temperature controls, and particle image velocimetry.

Brown University wind tunnel science.

These features allow the University to maintain its leadership on topics such as animal motion, fluid-structure interactions for flight vehicles, energy harvesting, and bio-inspired flight robotics. Specifically, by analyzing maneuver behaviors of bats, birds, and other flying and gliding animals through different wind patterns and new experimental techniques, scientists can then advance the aerodynamics of wing design for the very same jets and airplanes that travel through our stratosphere.

A Personalized Approach

The Plumb and Stein Labs

SMMA also helped transform Brown’s Plumb and Stein laboratories. The approach for this project required more personalization and collaboration: Brown’s Professor Plumb worked directly alongside the SMMA team to identify proper equipment utilization and address other challenges during the process. These thorough and informed touches not only elevated the lab spaces, but also the existing SMMA-Brown relationship.