When Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center decided to move forward on the first phase of an expansion of its research facilities on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, there was nowhere to go but up. The resulting building, the Mortimer B. Zuckerman Research Center, designed by SOM’s New York office in collaboration with Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Architects, is a direct outgrowth of its tight urban site: a 23-story structure with a terra-cotta slab running through its center and a cantilevered block of glass-enclosed offices. “That terra-cotta wall is basically the threshold separating the office space from the science laboratory side of the building,” explains Mustafa K. Abadan, the SOM partner who headed the project.
Internally the building is organized around the central terra-cotta spine, with a stairwell, elevators, and communal spaces for interaction dispersed to facilitate what SOM calls “intellectual collisions.” Laboratories are stacked vertically on the western side of the building, and the administration offices and conference rooms jut out to the east. “The site was just not big enough to create really efficient laboratory plates,” Abadan says, “so that’s how we came up with the idea of cantilevering.”
The controversial 692,000-square-foot building—one of the tallest research facilities in the world, according to Abadan, in a neighborhood fiercely protective of its urban scale—required some special engineering to meet its scientific function. “We had to dramatically stiffen the structure to minimize the effect of the building’s vibration on laboratory equipment,” the architect says.