By Henry Burke
In the United States, most people take for granted that the food they eat is safe and contains what the label says it does. But food safety doesn’t happen by itself. It takes dedicated teams of health professionals and scientists working in laboratories around the country to keep the population healthy and safe.
In the state of New York, much of the work of monitoring public health and screening for toxic substances in food and beverages takes place at the New York State Food Safety and Metrology Lab. It is the place where testing for health hazards, purity, and accuracy of labeling in food and beverages is done. The facility’s team of professionals protects New Yorkers from food-borne pathogens and illnesses. Scientists analyze over 20,000 food and beverage samples each year for biological and chemical hazards and standards of identity, and ensure compliance with state and federal regulations.
Also housed in the facility is the State Metrology Lab. Part of the Bureau of Weights and Measurements, it safely stores and maintains the state’s primary standards of mass, length, temperature, and volume, which are used to test commercial weighing and measuring devices. Scales in grocery stores, pumps at gas stations, meters on fuel oil or propane delivery vehicles, and meters in taxicabs are a few of the devices under the department’s purview.
When the New York State Office of General Services began developing plans for a new food safety and metrology laboratory to anchor the north edge of the Harriman Research and Technology Campus in Albany, New York, they turned to an architecture firm with experience designing facilities of this kind. The New York office of Omaha, Nebraska–based HDR Inc. was on a short list for the project and ultimately won the job.
“We do a lot of science buildings and had done a previous job for Cornell University that was similar,” says Dan Rew, design principal with HDR Inc. and project designer on the New York State Food Safety and Metrology Lab project. The laboratory holds the northeast edge of what is essentially a new quad on the Harriman Research and Technology Campus. It is a three-story (plus penthouse), 82,000-square-foot laboratory. Much of the facility is dedicated to food safety labs, with one floor designed for metrology.
The building’s simple, straightforward design nods at its purpose. Its form mimics a scale to reflect the weights and measures work that goes on inside. A vertical “bar” element made up of glass cladding with metal shading bisects the rectangular structure of the building. The entrance lobby and a two-story atrium on the west part of the building play against the metrology lab on the east section, representing weights on opposite ends of a scale. The metal-clad atrium has a recessed double-height window that is shaded by horizontal metal louvers.
Laboratories tend to be very energy intensive, but the state of New York wanted this facility to be as sustainable as possible. Energy-efficient performance was a main focus. The bar element, along with achieving the scale aesthetic, is also a key part of the building’s daylighting strategy, one of the many design elements used to hit the project’s ambitious energy efficiency goals.
“The orientation between the elevations was part of our energy strategy, and we have a pretty innovative mechanical system using dual energy heat wheels and chilled beams,” Rew explains. “From a performance standpoint, the owners were looking for a sustainable, high-performance building and doing the right things that got us to the mark. It ended up being a LEED Silver project. It operates at about 30 percent below baseline energy level.”
Metal plays an important role in achieving that LEED Silver certification. Part of the building is clad in glass with metal shading on the southern edge, providing daylight into open offices as well as to the laboratories, which are clad in insulated metal panels (IMPs). Applied in a vertical fashion, IMPs are central to the building’s energy strategy and also contribute to the overall aesthetic.
“CENTRIA’s Formawall® system is economical and has a good insulation value,” Rew says. “We also liked the way it looked. It gave us the opportunity to design a vertical panel system that we liked. We ended up with a couple of different finishes on the project. One is a silvery finish, and then another is an off-silver color that picks up the landscape around it quite well.”
The project showcases both 3" Formawall Dimension Series® and the visually striking Graphix SeriesTM product lines, which introduces the ability to form unique, complex patterns and designs by combining horizontal, vertical and even diagonal reveals in a single panel. Architects relied on multiple reveals to create the appearance of different panel lengths and a bold aesthetic that serves as the project's focal point.
Rew and the designers at HDR had worked with CENTRIA on projects in the past and were comfortable with what the manufacturer’s components and systems could deliver. While there were some minor challenges with the vertical installation, the project team was able to work through them and deliver an impressive end result.
“The panels worked very well, and give the building a nice, modern look,” Rew says.
Initial design on the project began in 2009, with construction getting underway in 2011. The laboratory opened in 2012. In 2014, the New York State Food Safety and Metrology Laboratory was awarded the Nation’s Healthiest Lab Award from the Association of Public Health Laboratories. The program is intended to recognize environmental responsibility and healthy workplace practices within laboratories.
The laboratory is serving the people of New York effectively and efficiently. Earning awards has been a point of pride for the laboratory, and for the state of New York. Since health and sustainability are core to the mission of the facility, the recognition further validates the work that takes place at the New York State Food Safety and Metrology Lab.
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