The Lawrence J. Ellison Institute for Transformative Medicine in Los Angeles is an innovative cancer research center that harnesses nature to create a space conducive to the hunt for a cure. Founded by Dr. David Agus, author of The End of Illness, among other titles, with a substantial donation from Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison, the project encourages collaboration between researchers, patients, and others by providing a comfortable and creative environment that overturns many expectations of what a laboratory building should be.
Designed by RIOS, which provided architecture as well as landscape architecture and wayfinding services, the scheme derives from Agus’s maxim: If you change the soil, the seed won’t grow. “How do you change researchers’ soil, mentally, and prime them to be collaborative?” asked RIOS creative director Sebastian Salvadó. To answer this, the team looked to its landscape practice. “We have always put landscape thinking at the forefront of everything we do,” Salvadó continued. “We really believe in the power of nature to create healthy spaces and spaces that we’re comfortable in and spaces that feel familiar and engaging.”
Unable to find an appropriate site for a ground-up building, the institute purchased a spec creative office designed by HLW that was still under construction. While the location, at the border of Santa Monica near the Expo Line, was ideal, the building’s long, skinny footprint—79 feet wide by 300 feet long, with the broad sides facing east and west—presented some challenges. However, RIOS developed a concept that turned these challenges into a driver for the design.
“We needed the institute to be open and free-flowing, but it couldn’t be so open that it had an inhuman sale,” Salvadó said. “We had to create a gradient of differently scaled spaces.” The architects divided the eastern side of the building from the west with a line and then made this line meander. To the east they placed the laboratories and other introverted spaces. To the west, they placed the open, collaborative spaces, like the communal kitchen, cafe, meeting rooms, and The Forum, a triple-height atrium that serves as the collaborative core of the project.
The meandering line breaks up the long, skinny floor plates into neighborhoods without introducing walls and doors. Meeting rooms and the few private offices were deployed as clusters of “boulders” that subdivide neighborhoods. The labs were also dispersed, which increased the cost of the HVAC system, but forces researchers to walk around and interact more. Throughout the building, access is provided to outdoor decks, even from the laboratories, though there you must also pass through an air lock.
The materials on the interior also lean toward the natural. In addition to an abundance of plants, there is a wealth of wood flooring, wood plank paneling, and exposed wood structure (stained to match the wood palette used in the rest of the building). Carpeting was used in the collaborative areas to make them softer and dampen the acoustics. In the lounge spaces the carpeting is even plusher and arrayed with custom upholstered dark metal furniture in sophisticated earthy colors. There is also a lot of art on display, including major works by Robert Indiana and Jeff Koons, yet another contemplative perk in this very comfortable and engaging lab building.
Location: Los Angeles
General contractor: Sierra Pacific Constructors
Structural engineer: Risha Engineering
Doors: Western Integrated, EZ Concept
Interior finishes: Galleher, Thermory, Farrow & Ball, Amerlux
Fittings and furniture: Tacchini, Bernhardt, Hay, Herman Miller, Ariana Rugs, Tom Dixon, Bentley (carpet)