UCSF Embraces Creative Design in Earthquake Country

At 660 feet long, perched 40 to 70 feet off the ground, the University of California, San Francisco’s new $23 million Ray and Dagmar Dolby Regeneration Medicine Building is as unique in its serpentine design as it is in its use.      
Completed last November and located on a steep hillside on the university’s Parnassus campus in San Francisco, the “cliffhanger” building houses the Eli and Edyth Broad Center of Regeneration Medicine and Stem Cell Research and is a huge milestone in the history of UCSF’s stem cell research program.
“This building is the first significant green field project on the UCSF Parnassus campus in the past 20 years,” says UCSF Chancellor Dr. Susan Desmond-Hellman. “The contracted design/build team was able to create the extraordinary building that is now home to 25 of the top stem cell laboratories in the United States. This new facility not only attracts the world’s best and brightest scientific minds to the city of San Francisco, but will serve as a center for collaboration with private industry.”
With its schematic architectural design provided by Rafael Viñoly Architects of New York in 2006, the project captivated the interest of Ray and Dagmar Dolby as well as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, both of which contributed funding for the facility, along with other private donations. Four research laboratories were planned for the building — each working with different aspects of stem cell technology.
Approximately 270 positions have been created with this project.
In 2008, UCSF selected DPR as general contractor and SmithGroup as architect of record, which then teamed together to make this project a reality. The companies started working together in June of that year with construction beginning two months later in August.
“The building contours itself to the road and recognizes the completely different environments that surround it through orientation of function and window placement,” explains Marianne O’Brien, a principal at SmithGroup. “The north wall of the building, which faces mostly the service side of buildings, is primarily windowless except at the west side where it opens up to a fantastic vista stretching from the Pacific Ocean across Golden Gate Park to the Bay. Inside, the labs feel light and airy, yet very grounded by green back dropped by the eucalyptus hill rising behind the building.”
Challenges Include Lack of Access
While it might seem that designing the building on a 60-degree slope was the toughest part of the project, O’Brien says it was actually the easier half of the equation.
“Solving all of the technical and construction challenges was extremely complex,” she says. “The sliver of land on which it is constructed was the only viable site on the Parnassus campus that placed the new research building in proximity to the existing research center and the core facilities needed to support the research.”
The challenge in the initial design, she adds, was to moderate between the slope of the road to the south, the existing floor elevations at the Health Sciences complex, and floor-to-floor height dimensions within the building to support the flow and function.
“The execution of the design required intense conversation between the soils engineer to solve stabilization issues, the civil engineers, structural engineers and the entire architectural design team. Even the initial challenges of surveying such a difficult site proved to have an impact on the design. The elevator tower had to be quickly relocated 20 feet to the east, and fully redesigned to preserve campus infrastructure when the initial survey was found to be inaccurate.”
For Michael Saks, DPR project manager, the biggest challenge for this team was the lack of access to the building.
“Rafael Viñoly Architects’ bridging document design was based on constructing the building from Medical Center Way.  But during the two-month proposal phase, our superintendent realized that we needed an access road for major equipment.  An access road design based on a cantilevered soldier pile retaining wall on the downhill side of the access road was then incorporated into our design and pricing.”
However, Malcolm Drilling, the retaining wall and drilled pier subcontractor, said it did not think it could meet the schedule with just one access road and that the downhill cantilevered design posed safety concerns. The drilling company then developed a revised design based on two access roads with uphill soil nailing retaining walls. DPR lowered the original access road below the seismic slip plane to improve the performance of the building foundation.
 “We went with the two-access road design based on the safety concerns and improved foundation design,” says Saks. “The design and approval of the revised retaining wall design delayed the start of the grading work at the building by three months and cost us an additional $500,000.”
Michael Toporkoff, UCSF associate director of capital programs, says the steep site needed to be “benched” with a provision of roads to accommodate drilling equipment for the 75-foot to 85-foot deep piles — four at each concrete column. Activities needed to be planned to avoid activity interference on the dead end roads.
“That is, one way in, one way out,” he says. “It was too steep to ‘daylight’ [connect to an existing road] at the west end so a ‘pull schedule’ [reverse schedule – starting with the end date and working backwards to identify each significant milestone] was established with commitments from each subcontractor for each activity. The schedule was revisited every week and the plan was implemented on the steep hillside. Foundation work took one year of the project schedule.”
With the hill being steeper at the west end and due to the geometry of the building, the
structural steel had to be set from east to west.  Therefore the foundation had to be 
completed before steel erection could begin.
CIRM — which provided partial funding for the project — also required that the project be completed in two years. To meet this schedule, the project was built with design/build delivery.
“Seven separate design packages were established,” says Toporkoff. “The team was designing the steel while the field was installing the foundations, and so on. The compact site, between campus research structures and Mt. Sutro did not allow much room for staging. Most of the material had to be ‘just-in-time’ delivery for erection and installation. This was especially evident with steel erection. The steel framing was completed on a fast-track, three-month period.”
LEED and Earthquake Friendly
Many sustainable design principles were also woven in the design. The performance goal was initially identified as LEED silver, but about a year into the project, UCSF decided to target LEED gold. 
The building also exceeds Title 24 energy conservation requirements by 24 percent, and while UCSF had already implemented lab practices to reduce water flow, the design/build team proposed low flow lab water fittings and met with lab managers to determine viability and build support.  As a result, the project ultimately incorporated low flow faucets in labs and waterless urinals throughout the building.  Additionally, green roofs reduce the heat-island effect, minimize stormwater runoff and enhance the environment while native plants contribute to reduced irrigation requirements, As well, the base isolated design also provides substantial material savings over a traditional moment frame significantly reducing the carbon footprint of the building and enhancing the lifespan of the building.
Though it is impossible to make any structure completely earthquake proof, a key feature of this project is its base isolators that allow for 23 inches of lateral movement during an earthquake.
The structural design includes 42 friction pendulum seismic isolators, located between the foundation and the structure at each of the building’s anchor points, which allow the building to slide nearly two feet in any horizontal direction. This was achieved by earthquake isolation devices, some of which were custom designed by structural engineer Forell/Elsesser to withstand 100 tons of uplift forces each.
Seismic base isolation is considered to be one of the most optimal solutions to help protect life, building contents and structural integrity in an earthquake, says O’Brien. This is due to the isolators’ ability to reduce lateral accelerations. A base-isolated building can “ride out” an event, moving more slowly and shaking less violently than the ground underneath. The isolators are dished, which helps bring the building back to rest in a position close to the starting mark.
“UCSF understood the value of making the investment in base isolation, seeing it as an investment in the research,” she adds. “Not only do the isolators help protect the building, they help protect the contents and systems, which will help assure continuity of operation in an event. Even the glassware should suffer less damage than in a traditional building.”