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The Methodist Hospital Research Institute

Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates


A new lab building is designed to attract top talent and reflect an institution’s changing culture while facilitating the full spectrum of translational research.

By Beth Broome

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In the late 1960s, Dr. Michael DeBakey performed some of the country’s first heart transplants at the Methodist Hospital in Houston. As the teaching hospital for Baylor College of Medicine since 1950, Methodist was no stranger to cutting-edge technology and research, though for a long time it relied on its partnership with the college for biomedical investigation. But in 2004 the two institutions parted ways as Methodist decided to become an independent academic medical center and formed the Methodist Hospital Research Institute (TMHRI). Dedicated to translational research, TMHRI would employ a bench-to-bedside approach for “translating” laboratory findings into new diagnostics, therapies, and treatments for a range of diseases. To attract top talent, the institute brought in Baylor’s world-renowned pathologist and cancer researcher Dr. Michael Lieberman as its founding CEO and president and, soon after, New York–based Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF) as design architect to help create this 430,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility in the heart of the Texas Medical Center (TMC).

With 49 institutions and over 34 million square feet of patient care, education, and research space, TMC is the largest such center in the world. Its dense urban landscape is dominated by architecturally unambitious structures. “For Methodist to hire us along with [executive architect] WHR was a big step,” says KPF principal Douglas Hocking, “because they had never really done modern buildings. It was part of their larger vision of where they wanted to be for the future.”

The team spent the first six months studying various sites on Methodist’s campus. The challenge became preserving a wide-open lot for a future hospital expansion (in which KPF is involved, but which is currently on hold), while finding a site that was physically connected to the hospital facilities — a crucial component of translational research. In a stroke of luck, the team found that a one-acre sliver of land, used as a vehicle drop-off for the hospital, could, if done artfully, accommodate the program. The team’s basic moves are simple: An east-facing glass-walled volume houses conference rooms and principal investigators’ (PIs) offices, while a precast-concrete bar to the west ties into the campus and holds the labs.

The client had a goal of accommodating about 90 PIs and 800 staff. Charged with recruiting an esteemed academic faculty, Dr. Lieberman worked closely with the architects and lab consultant to ensure the building would aid in this pursuit and address unforeseen future needs. As the project progressed, the program continued to evolve. “We reached the end of schematics,” says KPF principal Jill Lerner, “and then they added two floors.” The 12-story concrete structure supports six lab floors, with a surgical-training facility on the fifth floor and a 12th floor that will be fit-out as an amenity level as well as an FDA-regulated manufacturing facility for making therapeutics, vaccines, and imaging agents for use in human clinical trials.

On the lab floors, linear equipment rooms bridge research areas, while breakout spaces (double-height on the north and single-height on the south) link offices and labs and provide opportunities for people to connect. “We could design the offices and labs as pretty generic,” says Lerner, “since researchers were not in place.” Adds Hocking, “The big challenge was threading everything together, particularly at the ground plane.” An expansion of the Dunn building’s cafeteria helps connect the new research facility to the hospital, and a double-height shared lobby addresses the client’s requirement for entry points to both. It was also critical that the ground-floor imaging suite be easily accessed from both the lobby and the vivarium, which is located on the second level (because Houston is on a floodplain, many functions that would typically go below grade had to be raised). The basement houses a cyclotron and hot-cell and nuclear pharmacy facilities, which are protected by floodgates.

While the institute’s new home was completed in October 2010, upper floors are still being fit-out and will take shape as new researchers join the team. “The building makes a statement about the type of research we’re going to do here, which is very patient-centric,” says Edward Jones, TMHRI’s vice president of operations. “It’s also given us a chance to put a new face on the front of Methodist Hospital that reflects the changing culture here, where we’re going from being just a great hospital to becoming an academic medical center.”

Completion Date: October 2010

Total construction cost: $178 million

Gross square footage: 430,000 square feet

Design Architect:
KPF, 11 West 42nd Street
NY, NY 10036
Tel. 212.977.6500  
Fax. 212.956.2526

August 2011
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