Commercial Architecture | April 12, 2021
When MBC BioLabs and MBH Architects began the initial design phase for 930 Brittan Avenue in 2017, they could not have anticipated how essential their colorful and lively life-science incubator development would become. The development—which consisted of three warehouses that were renovated and combined into a single facility—now includes a new ground-up three-story addition totaling 30,000 square feet of rentable laboratory and workspace available to life-science start-ups.
What was the initial purpose of 930 Brittan Avenue?
The main goal of 930 Brittan was to empower entrepreneur scientists by providing them with a state-of-the-art facility to accelerate their scientific innovations. Emerging life science companies face high start-up costs of infrastructure and equipment before they can conduct their first experiment. MBC BioLabs adapts the coworking office model for innovators to more efficiently do their work.
What were the challenges and how were they solved?
While the 930 Brittan laboratory was finalizing construction in early 2020, the United States was hit by the unprecedented coronavirus pandemic. Seven Bay Area counties were among the first in the nation to implement a shelter-in-place order, with the entire State of California following suit shortly after. Within the first week, MBC BioLabs and Dewey Land Company moved to have the project at 930 Brittan deemed essential. Due to the emphasis on the vaccine and healthcare-related research, construction was permitted to continue and reach completion in August. Design and construction teams began operating in a new workflow, conducting remote meetings and limited site visits. The luxury of time had vanished, and everyone had to act fast and respond quickly to any questions from the field. Teams instituted their own safety protocols including masks, temperature checks, and social distancing.
Why is this new building significant?
The new laboratory, which opened in August 2020, is home to several companies—two of which are nonprofits— that are devoted to developing fast, accurate, and budget-friendly COVID-19 tests. In fact, one company was recently awarded a National Institutes of Health Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (NIH RADx) grant to continue their important work. Ultimately, MBC BioLabs successfully increased the number of SARS CoV-2 tests from approximately 0.5 million per day to over five million per day.
What are the highlights of the design for MBC BioLabs?
While labs have to be sterile, MBH and MBC wanted to challenge the traditional aesthetic of windowless, all-white research lab. Instead, the design team was inspired by MBC’s vibrant brand colors, and utilized the oranges, greens, and yellows in the materials, fixtures and environment graphics throughout to connect the laboratory spaces to the common areas. Large windows, where the original warehouse’s garage doors once were, illuminate the ground-floor laboratories and give those passing by and scientists visibility. Laboratories and common areas were designed to encourage spontaneous interactions or “casual collisions” and provide renters comfortable places to linger. A standout indoor/outdoor event space can be utilized for wellness activities or gatherings including those intended to connect researchers with capital, and has been a much-welcomed addition that occupants enjoy regularly.
As laboratories are energy-dense environments, MBC BioLabs, together with MBH Architects, worked hard to ensure all lab equipment appliances were Energy Star-rated. Additionally, 930 Brittan’s rooftop is equipped with solar panels to help with energy production. A Bloom Energy Box will eventually be installed once an additional MBC BioLabs building has been completed adjacent at 1030 Brittan to support the new lab campus from its own microgrid by converting fuel into electricity through an electrochemical process.
Published: Commercial Architecture
Photography credit: Tyler Chartier