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GRAY AWARDS 2020 Editors’ Picks

See the entries that caught our editors’ eyes.


Each week through January 2021, we will be rolling out two of our Editors’ Picks from GRAY Awards 2020.

Editors’ Pick: Center for Novel Therapeutics

Perkins and Will

By GRAY Editors

The Center for Novel Therapeutics in San Diego, is a world-class research institution designed by the Seattle office of Perkins and Will. Image by Nick Merrick.

Historically, research labs don’t often stand out as bastions of high design—and with good reason. They’re workhorses meant to provide scientists with the space and tools they need to conduct studies in fields ranging from medicine to zoology. But after two faculty members at two faculty members at the University of California San Diego had a shared vision to speed up the delivery of life-saving cancer treatments by blending academic and private sector research, the resulting facility (built a decade after the initial idea) proves that the phrase 'research and design' can be more than just a buzzy business catch phrase. The Center for Novel Therapeutics (CNT)—the result of a partnership between BioMed Realty, UCSD, and the design team at the Seattle office of Perkins and Will—is a research center that takes design seriously, providing staff and scientists with spacious, inventive interiors that allow them to conduct groundbreaking research in a thoughtfully modern space.

“To meet the goal of speeding up the delivery of life saving treatments, the project had to innovate beyond the traditional lab organization to create a new generation of research and collaboratively oriented lab spaces,” Perkins and Will writes in its entry. “The solution was to curate a series of individually scaled and flexible laboratories for academic researchers, private industry labs, and scaled accelerator labs and incubator spaces. Together, these programs within the CNT project form a world-class research institution where novel therapeutics are conducted and discovered.”

The atrium at CNT includes breakout pods that seemingly float into the central space. An abundance of glass allows for plenty of natural light. Image by Nick Merrick.

The design team was inspired by San Diego landmarks such as the Salk Institute, as well as the local tradition of architectural concrete. “The project’s three primary wings are each housed within frames of white architectural concrete,” the firm continues, “loosely placed on the building form creating outdoor terraces with terra cotta screens on the Western side and glazed circulation zones on the Eastern side. Within the architectural frames, glazed cassettes have been introduced with each responding to their specific environmental orientation—frosted glass vertical sunshades on the east, horizontal sunshades on the south and terracotta screens on the west.” These implementations helped the building receive a LEED Gold certification and made it the first on campus to exceed a 20% savings over the state's latest Title 24 energy requirements.

The concrete stairway in the atrium brings to mind a double-helix shape. Image by Nick Merrick.

Inside, the atrium and its curving staircase are a standout. A series of floating, glass-clad meeting pods are arranged within the space—two within the atrium and a third directly outside of the atrium’s glass wall. This part of the building (as well as the exterior) made our edits long for day back in the office… if only we had amazing breakout rooms like these! The architecture of the space does a superb job of making it feel both open and light (all those skylights, windows, and glass) and grounded at the same time (the concrete, the solidity of the boxes)—this kind of balance is often hard to achieve. Prefabricated wood trusses and bridges inside the atrium both physically and metaphorically link the research wings.

“The atrium serves as the central lung for the building,” notes Perkins and Will, “filtering air and daylight into the adjacent offices and meeting areas through operable windows in the curtainwall and skylight areas… it is also seen as an extension of the canyon beyond creating visual and physical connections through its large sliding doors, motorized windows and interior planters with native canyon flora.”

The design team was inspired by the Salk Institute and the region's historic use of architectural concrete for its building design. Image by Nick Merrick.

CATEGORY: Architecture, Commercial

PROJECT: Center for Novel Therapeutics

FIRM: Perkins and Will


LOCATION: San Diego, California, United States



Kay Kornovich

Ryan Bussard

Eileen McHugh

Robert Ernst

Christa Wood


McCarthy Construction

Latitude 33

Coffman Engineers

Exp U.S. Services, Inc.



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