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As the organization charged with promoting our nation’s health, preventing disease, injury and disability, and preparing for new health threats, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has an ambitious mission to be sure. It’s somewhat ironic that, prior to the early 2000s, the employees of the CDC’s Roybal Campus in Atlanta were working in old, outdated buildings completely unbefitting of their work.
Laboratory, lab support, office and special space was at a premium. Corridors were packed with freezers containing pathogenic agents and bio-hazardous materials, and bathrooms were converted into labs. Critical infrastructure systems were also in a shocking state of decline. Outdated electrical systems strained under the never-ending load of added machinery and equipment. Duct work was deteriorating, and lab workers were forced to devise makeshift methods to keep particles and debris from blowing directly onto sensitive equipment and compromising test results.
In some labs, laboratory and office work was done in a single large room where directional airflow could not be controlled and hazardous work could not be compartmentalized. Such conditions severely threatened the functionality, safety and efficiency of these areas.
Thankfully by the early 2000s, the CDC fully developed its 2000-2009 Atlanta Master Plan to physically transform both its Roybal and Chamblee campuses from a collection of shoddy, out-of-date buildings to world-class facilities worthy of the amazing work taking place within them.
A significant part of this effort was led by Atlanta-based tvsdesign. The global architectural and design firm was selected to help the CDC replace eight of its 26 antiquated facilities—including a global communications center, a visitors’ center and administrative offices—with safe, flexible and modern spaces over the course of the last 10 years.
“When you think about the deplorable places CDC personnel were working in before and how important their work is to our country’s health and well-being, you can’t help but want to say, ‘You know, it’s due time that their working conditions were upgraded,’” says Nancy J. Cartledge, AIA, principal at tvsdesign. By improving their facilities and promoting worker productivity, satisfaction and efficiency, it really benefits everyone in the country, Cartledge adds. “What they do is so fascinating, and being able to support it by giving them the minimum requirements to do a critical job was truly satisfying for everybody.”
Given that many of the CDC’s employees are researchers and scientists at the top of their fields, tvsdesign wanted to give the new buildings a more progressive aesthetic to better reflect the organization’s mission and high-level work. “While we weren’t really going for cutting-edge architecture, we wanted a progressive look—something that says, ‘This is not an organization that is stuck in the past. This is an organization that looks to the future,’” explains Micah Rosen, AIA, LEED AP, associate principal.
The latest example of the transformative work completed by tvsdesign on the Roybal Campus is an office building housing public health professionals and support staff, referred to simply as Building 24. The 311,000-square-foot, 12-story office building is adjacent to the CDC’s Arlen Specter building (Building 21).
Building 24 incorporates many of the successful design components developed for Building 21. This includes a floor plan that locates meeting spaces and service space in the core; those spaces are surrounded by enclosed offices, creating an open plan at the perimeter of the building. This shift to an open layout was borne out of necessity rather than invention.
According to Cartledge, the CDC was given a mandate to reduce the overall assignable square footage per employee. As a result, the design “had to address a reduced defined square footage per person, so the workstation modules became smaller. But I don’t think it compromised the overall feel of the space,” she says. “In the end you don’t feel like you’re in a call center—you feel like you’re in an institutional organization that does high-level scientific research.”
Although the shift to an open plan was mandated, ultimately, Cartledge feels there’s an understanding that it was the right thing to do “and that it was achievable, and that it’s comparable to what the private sector has. So it was a move in the right direction.”
The comparison to the private sector was also a driving factor for both the CDC and the design team, according to Rosen. “One of the things that the CDC is very conscious of is that the people that work for the agency have the talent and drive to work for any high-level research organization,” he says.
Much like the military’s desire to retain its officers, the CDC “relies on a sense of mission, and creating a collegial environment where people feel like their research is valued and that they’re an important part of the team,” Rosen explains. ”So what we were trying to do is reinforce that and make their campus comparable to any research campus you might find in this country. And part of that is for recruiting and retention purposes.”
Another selling point for current and future employees is the fact that several of the buildings
were designed with sustainability in mind. Building 21 achieved Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver certification, while Building 24 is on track to achieve LEED Gold. Given the CDC’s mission, the previous conditions of its buildings and tvsdesign’s experience, sustainable design was a no-brainer.
“Being the CDC and having a mission for environmental health, they were very much in tune with LEED concepts, and in some cases, had specific items they wanted to focus on, such as indoor air quality,” Rosen says. “One of the items we focused on for Building 24 was using low-mercury lighting. It’s a considerable environmental health issue, discharging mercury into the environment, so even though that’s not a LEED credit for new buildings, it does actually exist in the LEED for Existing Buildings category, so we got an Innovation [in Design] credit for our new building.”
Building 24 has been designed to achieve LEED Gold certification through the use of strategies that reflect the CDC’s commitment to workplace and environmental health, and complies with federal facilities mandates for a minimum 30 percent reduction in energy usage from the ASHRAE 90.1-2004 baseline.
Light shelves reflect daylight deep into the interior, offering abundant natural light and views to the outside. Stairs are located at the ends of the building, providing large view windows, natural light and an overall inviting atmosphere. The design team included interior furnishing systems that integrate LED lighting for energy reduction purposes, and also made sure occupants were getting plenty of light on the desktop without having to put a lot of energy into light overhead, according to Rosen.
Other sustainable design features include reduced panel heights to allow for more daylight, recycled content and low- or no-VOC furnishings and finishes, walking trails and a 30,000-gallon storm water cistern for storm water management and irrigation use, just to name a few.
According to Cartledge, these are all things that CDC employees never had before the implementation of the 2000-2009 Master Plan and that actually make them a living laboratory for their global mission. “It’s all about our health, and them being able to do their job properly to ensure our health, and giving them the right workplace to do it in. [It’s about] the CDC clearly recognizing and understanding their public health mission, really living that mission and walking the talk in their own home.”
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buildings & facilities office, centers for disease control & prevention
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
1600 Clifton Road NE
Atlanta, GA 30329
2700 Promenade Two
1230 Peachtree Street NE
Atlanta, GA 30309
A. Brooke Taylor
Kerry McCarty Wittwer
Hon-Cheung “Ziv” Chan
Turner Construction Co.
Brian Gassel, tvsdesign