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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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October 11, 2010

Princeton's New Chemistry Building

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Posted by Derek

So I believe that they're moving into the new chemistry building at Princeton, which is a mighty glass whopper. In light of some of the past discussions we've had around here about lab design, I'd be interested in hearing from anyone with personal experience of the building. I can't really get a good sense of the layout from the pictures I've seen, just that there sure seem to be a lot of glass walls. And those aren't necessarily bad; it's the way the labs are put together and their relationship the desks and offices.

Interestingly, much of the money for its construction seems to have come from the university's royalties on Alimta (pemetrexed), a folate anticancer drug discovered by Ted Taylor's group there in the early 1990s and developed by Lilly. (Taylor, a heterocyclic chemistry legend, worked on antifolates for many, many years, and contributed a huge amount to the field).

Here's more on the building, and here are some photos, and here are some architectural renderings, for what those are worth. Any comments from folks on the ground?

Comments (29) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Cancer | Chemical News | Drug Industry History


1. Pallas Renatus on October 11, 2010 11:37 PM writes...

I do hope there are no logistical SNAFUs with the design, it looks to be a lovely building to work in otherwise.

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2. Jose on October 12, 2010 1:43 AM writes...

"Large ovoids made of shade-cloth by constructed by sculptor Kendall Buster entitled "Resonance""

Well, now I really feel so science-artsy!
It looks quite a bit like the Novartis building in Emeryville.

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3. startup on October 12, 2010 1:52 AM writes...

Resembles a prison a bit, but who really cares if hoods are plentiful and working and they designed it with enough sinks and benchspace?

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4. Anonymous on October 12, 2010 2:15 AM writes...

Architecture reminds me of the CCSR building at Stanford.

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5. Mark on October 12, 2010 2:38 AM writes...

This looks somewhat similar to the construction and design of Oxford University's newest building, albeit with more in the way of hanging art.


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6. Kevin on October 12, 2010 2:51 AM writes...

Looks like a copy of the CRL in Oxford, England

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7. Anonymous on October 12, 2010 4:27 AM writes...

Looking at those photos it seems surprisingly ugly.

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8. barry on October 12, 2010 6:50 AM writes...

expect to find architects wandering around. Some will be just touring. Others will be there to fix the acoustics. Probably some textiles will be added over the next year to dampen noise. Apparently it's easy to model the effects of all that glass on the play of light, but not yet easy to design the behavior of sound.

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9. PUGradStudent on October 12, 2010 6:51 AM writes...

We moved into the new building about a month ago. Overall, I would say that the grad students are quite pleased with the move, although there are still the normal problems with the new building (construction not complete, NMRs had to be moved, etc). You get used to the glass after a while, or at least used to people being able to stare at you at all times during the day. Overall, I like the open feeling of the building. While all of the organic labs are now on the same floor, there are still opaque divisions between most of the labs, which I think is an okay situation. It is easy to get to the other labs, but one generally isn't forced to interact if you don't want to. I would say that engineering ideals and form did not control function in about 95% of the work here.

The artwork also grows on you - most people interpret it as indoor clouds, but I have also heard of squashed marshmallows, jellyfish, and maybe an orbital or two.

And how can I complain when my hood sash automatically moves up and down? That is the lap of luxury for an organic chemist, I suppose.

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10. Anonymous on October 12, 2010 7:47 AM writes...

I totally agree with #3. I've heard rumors about this building for a wile, being a chemist in NJ. From what I hear, benchspace and hood space are not optimal. Perhaps the days of 6 foot hoods are gone? But it sure looks purty....

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11. PrincetonDenizen on October 12, 2010 7:55 AM writes...

For $278 million, you ought to expect the hood sashes and ventillation to work properly! Very artisitic, but seems to waste a lot of space and is incongruous with the rest of the Neo-Gothic and Federalist campus. While many of the top-tier universities are engaged in a pissing contest of research facility construction, one should take note that most of the best chemical discoveries were made in the dingiest labs. How expensive would it have been to renovate the old Frick Labs?

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12. Anonymous on October 12, 2010 8:20 AM writes...

@10: You're right, no 6ft hoods, they're 8 ft now with tons of bench/storage space.

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13. newnickname on October 12, 2010 9:24 AM writes...

My first real (non-lab manual) chemistry research project as an undergrad was making antifolates based of Taylor chemistry. The chemistry really worked. Made pyrazine-1-oxides for chemo- and regiocontrol and took off the O at the end with mercury amalgam.

Our compounds did NOT make a billion dollars but it was a great learning experience.

Looking back, I think I'd prefer to have been bored but gotten a piece of the billion dollar molecule.

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14. Doc Bushwell on October 12, 2010 10:32 AM writes...

My spouse was the on-site supervising architect for the building. Now that his role there has been completed, he is a "free agent," i.e., unemployed like many other architects. At any rate, I'll pass along the verdict of those who actually use the building.

As part of my checkered undergrad career, I was an architecture major before I ultimately decided to rejoin liberal arts and sciences as a life science major and from there, biochemistry. So it's interesting to see these things as both scientist and someone who has an inkling of how architecture works (or does not). Not to mention hearing my spouse's take on the end users of the buildings he has worked on (the Stanford chem labs, the Bauer Laboratory at Harvard). As a lowly team project architect, he tends to trust feedback from grad students and post-docs. I have trained him well.

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15. Former PU Grad Student on October 12, 2010 11:39 AM writes...

My understanding is that it would have cost a lot more money than it would be worth to renovate the old Frick Labs. The department had to sink money into the building about 10 years ago just to bring the labs to meet the minimum of the fire code, and I honestly had my doubts that the work did that. A gorgeous old building, but it really showed its age once you started poking around in the interior.

I haven't stepped into the new labs yet (hopefully I'll get a chance to do so in the next month or so), but I have heard the usual mumbling and grumbling from the professors that there wasn't enough lab space allocated to everyone. But since everyone was mumbling and grumbling, it was probably a fair division of space.

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16. WhatEv on October 12, 2010 12:31 PM writes...

Princeton Chemistry can have its shiny new buildling. At least Columbia's Havermeyer is keepin' it real!

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17. Bulldogs on October 12, 2010 2:20 PM writes...

Note that Yale purchased the entire West Haven Bayer facility (sorry to bring that up, Derek) for $110 that's quite a bargain!

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18. Wolverines! on October 12, 2010 2:49 PM writes...

What about Michigan picking up the old Pfizer/Parke-Davis site a few years ago? That was definitely a bargain. Anyway, Yale was in dire need of lab upgrades. It was hard to distinguish between Stirling Lab and the Law School!

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19. Anonymous on October 12, 2010 3:33 PM writes...

They always say that "well, it would be too expensive to renovate the old labs - constructing a new building would be cheaper". But I have a hard time believing it. If building a whole new building is so much cheaper than renovating the old labs *in an already existing building*, are you really getting the same quality construction as the old building was? Or is it some new-age cardboard and glass wonder?

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20. @Former PU Grad Student on October 12, 2010 3:45 PM writes...


"The department had to sink money into the building about 10 years ago just to bring the labs to meet the minimum of the fire code, and I honestly had my doubts that the work did that. A gorgeous old building, but it really showed its age once you started poking around in the interior."

Yes, Frick was not ideal. But would you agree that the labs were functional?

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21. RB Woodweird on October 12, 2010 3:57 PM writes...

McAllister entered a hallway with gleaming green tiles on the floor – real ceramic, not the industrial strength gray tiles in Pebble Science. The walls were a light rose, and the doors and trim were solid oak. McAllister pointed to a door two down. “That should be it,” he said, excitedly. “Wait until you see it. California hoods at the end of every bench, real built-in lab desks –“
He burst through the door to his new laboratory. Geiger was hard on his heels and nearly ran McAllister over.
“Jesus, Mac. Look out where....” Geiger stopped.
McAllister was turning, heading back out the door. “This isn’t it,” he said. Geiger opened the floor plans as the door closed. He traced a finger over the route they had followed.
“Says here it is,” he called loudly. The door opened and McAllister came back in. Geiger showed him the page, his finger on the blue square indicating the room they were standing in. It was labeled “McAllister”. He followed Geiger’s finger, then surveyed the room.
“Can’t be. Where are the desks? There aren’t any desks. It shows desks on the plan, Geiger.” Then he had an awful realization. “Shit! There....”
There were no California hoods to be seen. Yes, there were regular hoods, the same tiny eight-foot boxes that could be found back in Pebble Science, but not a one of the special tall enclosures designed for safe and efficient operation of large chromatography columns – the very type that McAllister’s research relied on. But D’Arcy had said that the labs were fitted out according to the plan. He had said –
“Sorry, Mac,” Geiger said. “Somebody lied to you.”
McAllister sank down and sat on the edge of an empty cable spool. “Fuck. No wonder they didn’t let us see the labs. They weren’t following our plans at all.” He looked up at Geiger. “It’s all wrong.”
Geiger nodded, a wry smile on his lips. Then the smile disappeared, and he began to flip the pages of the blueprint. He found what he was looking for, a small rectangle with NMR ROOM printed in the middle of it, burned the scheme in his mind, oriented himself north-south and elevation, and ran out the door.

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22. Anonymous on October 12, 2010 4:29 PM writes...

The thing is, once you start to open up these old research buildings you never know what you will find. I know of a case where workers removed floor in a room that has not been used as a lab for decades and found quite a bit of mercury. How much do you think it will cost to shut down the site, and call in cleanup people? What if you need to do it several times? And then, replacing all plumbing, wiring, communications, ordering custom windows - that just does not sound like a money-saving proposition. And where're the people supposed to work in the meanwhile?

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23. Huh on October 12, 2010 5:27 PM writes...

Nice photos, but $278,000,000 still seems like a lot of money for 200 fume hoods, which will look like crap after 1-year's exposure to sloppy grad students and postdocs. Hopefully there aren't latent design flaws like those in the Stata Center and Simmons Hall at MIT. (C'mon Derek, you've seen those ugly-ass buildings in Cambridge!)

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24. Anonymous on October 12, 2010 5:53 PM writes...


Well, the mecury could be a problem, but then again shouldn't that have been taken care of before? After all, there were people working there all this time. About the plumbing, wiring and communications - does it really need replacing or is this just an excuse to spend more money? And even if it does need to be redone it would be the same work that would be done in the new building. Where are the savings? And custom windows? huh? what kind of chemistry is that for? The problem of people working at the same time could be solved by fixing one floor at a time, or half-floor, whatever. How much downtime is there for moving to a new building as a comparison? The new building hoopla is just that - if someone really wanted to they could renovate old buildings for a reasonable cost with minimal down time.

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25. Hap on October 12, 2010 6:34 PM writes...

1) If you have to clean up an old building you have to displace people, which means either you have to have extra space to put them in or they're out of work for a period of time.

2) Buildings are built to fit the minimum they need to to fit a given time, but that minimum changes significantly over time, like in say, a century. (waste disposal? safety regs? asbestos?) Lots of things that would have to be fixed in the old building or adapted to methods of this century won't have to be redone in a new building built from scratch.

Examples of redos with minimal downtime and functionality gain?

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26. @25 Hap on October 12, 2010 6:49 PM writes...

Earlier in the decade (feels strange saying that), Emory's Chemistry Department underwent renovations as well as building expansion. From what I was told when I visited, the department had spare labs where affected groups worked while their floors were being fixed. Atwood Hall is at least 7 floors, so I believe that the renovations weren't simultaneous. Then again, not all departments have spare labs!

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27. Jose on October 13, 2010 12:23 AM writes...

Ventilation, heating and AC (HVAC) are *the* major costs for operating chem buildings, esp in the NE. The cost of getting an old dinosaur up to some modern specs is nothing short of astronomical.

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28. Liz on October 13, 2010 1:37 PM writes...

It kind of looks like the Biodesign building at Arizona State with all the glass.

I can tell you that being stared at all the time through the glass got really old, especially with all the building tours. There aren't very many hoods either, so all the chemists in my old lab had to move to another building where there was more space, while half of the lab stayed - the lab next to ours was getting nervous with some of the reactions being run outside the hood due to lack of space. It's very open; multiple labs can be on a floor with benches next to each other. Desks/offices are on the other side of the building, which was supposedly designed so that people talked and interacted with each other.

I'm in another (older) building now and happy to have some privacy (and a larger desk).

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29. Anonymous on October 15, 2010 2:20 PM writes...

It could have been used to save some chemistry departments in the country by generous donations than to spend on a building in this economy! Just my 2cents.

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