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Research complex balances old and new

Research complex balances old and new

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UW-Madison Biochemical Sciences Complex, Madison

Photos submitted by J.H. Findorff & Son Inc.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s new Biochemical Sciences Complex was built for the future while protecting the site’s past.

The $117 million project included renovation of structures built in 1906, 1912 and 1937, as well as demolition of a 1956 building and construction of a new, six-story research tower that includes laboratories for 20 research groups, lecture halls, teaching labs and a data center for the national nuclear magnetic resonance structural database initiative.

During construction, great effort went into protecting 1930s-era murals that were part of one of the original structures. A state conservator documented the murals’ condition and stabilized worn spots. Construction crews covered the murals with Tyvek, set up a barrier wall and regulated the room temperature while work was underway.

“It was a very extensive remodeling effort that went on above and around the murals,” said Jason Mattila, senior project manager with J.H. Findorff & Son. “We removed one exterior wall completely. We removed the roof completely and re-roofed the building above the murals. So, there was quite a bit of temporary work that needed to be done to make sure the murals weren’t exposed to water or vibration.

“The murals were quite a bit of effort actually.”

At times, that effort involved construction crews standing with their hands against a wall to check for vibrations; a low-tech but easy way to make sure their work wasn’t disturbing the historic floor-to-ceiling murals.

“Sometimes, we needed to experiment,” Mattila said. “If we could feel it in the wall, we needed to figure out a different way.”

Crews also worked around historic elements outside the buildings, such as a 150-year-old American elm tree that “severely restricted access to one side of the site,” Mattila said.

Crews put up a fence, rerouted site traffic and constantly reminded subcontractors to steer clear. It was a lot of work, but it was worth it, said David Black, principal designer with Flad & Associates Inc.

“That became the centerpiece of the biochemistry courtyard,” Black said.

With the tree at its center, designers tied the complex of buildings together by repeating the terra cotta roof tiles of the older structures in a terra cotta rain screen and sun shade system on the new research tower.

“It’s an old material reinterpreted,” Black said. “And it’s a material that allowed us, through this expression, to make the building appear lighter and reduce the heat load of the building.

“So, it’s not just about this historic past, but also looking forward to the future of a great research facility.”

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UW-Madison Biochemical Sciences Complex, Madison

Location: Madison

Submitting company: Flad & Associates Inc., Madison

General contractor: J.H. Findorff & Son Inc., Madison

Architect: Flad & Associates Inc.

Engineers: Affiliated Engineers Inc., Madison (mechanical, electrical and security); Staff Electric Co. Inc., Menomonee Falls (electrical); PSJ Engineering Inc., Madison (plumbing and fire protection)

Owner: State of Wisconsin

Project size: 269,600 square feet

Project cost: $117 million

Start date: June 1, 2006

Completion date: Aug 31, 2012


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