With a wordy name like the Krishna P Singh Centre of Nanotechnology, the University of Pennsylvania’s newest addition has a lot to live up to. In addition to being the campus’ most state-of-the-art facility dedicated to pioneering research and education in the field of nanotechnology, it is also its first cross-disciplinary building, bringing together the fields of chemistry, physics and multiple iterations of engineering under one roof. In the making since 2008, the cantilevered 78,000 sq ft building, designed by the multifaceted architecture practice Weiss/Manfredi, has just opened its doors.
Located on the north side of Walnut Street, the building breathes new life into the eastern side of the university’s expanding footprint. The Singh Center is the crown jewel, and positions the school towards becoming the United States’ foremost authority on nano-science research and education. Nanotechnology research impacts everything from regenerative medicine and drug delivery systems to efficient ways of creating and storing electricity and harvesting fresh water from seawater. As a result, the building’s characterisation and fabrication suites are situated in bedrock, 18 ft below ground level, to minimise any vibrations that might affect atomic and electron microscopes.
When designing the building, Weiss/Manfredi were completely faithful to the needs of the nanotechnology centre. For one, the facility is significantly set back from Walnut Street, which is a major connecting road in Philadelphia, to again minimise the impact of any vibrations. The science equipment is so sensitive that even the facility’s elevators are situated along the periphery, which gave way to the construction of a dramatic, monumental staircase that connects the different parts of the building.
Clad in layers of glass, the Singh Center has an airiness that is atypical of science research buildings, with plenty of natural light filtering through. This transparency continues indoors with the addition of cheerful panels of amber glass, which serve to eliminate certain UV wavelengths in research spaces, while informing the rest of the interior colour palette.
Instead of conforming to the campus’ existing organisation, where laboratory buildings are typically set along a central corridor, Weiss/Manfredi have embraced another tradition, the open quad. The laboratories of the Singh Center - which comes complete with an energy savings program - are located around an internalised central quad, allowing for a new open relationship between indoor and outdoor spaces.