Vernacular Barn Houses High Tech Lab
Biocontainment laboratory boasts natural light and outside views

Vernacular-Inspired Elements

The light-filled conference room possesses clear views to the outside.



reduction in lighting power density compared to a code building

of the regularly occupied areas are daylit

reduction in energy usage from a typical biology lab building in its climate, meeting the current AIA 2030 Commitment target

reduction in potable water usage = 188 bathtubs per year

49 houses
Reduction in energy use equals the annual energy used by 49 homes in the Northeast


Pennsylvania State University
Eva J. Pell Laboratory for Advanced Biological Studies

University Park, PA / United States


22,395 GSF

ABSL-3+ and BSL-3 for emerging infectious diseases such as H5N1. Includes ACL-3 Insectary.

LEED Certified

At the Pennsylvania State University, Payette designed the Pell Laboratory to provide biocontainment for their growing infectious disease research program. This standalone ABSL-3+ facility has been designed to support select agent pathogen research such as H5N1 (Avian Influenza) in a variety of animal species, including rodents, rabbits, ferrets and poultry. Located within a cluster of animal research facilities on the Ag Campus of Penn State, Pell Laboratory sits within central Pennsylvania’s rolling agrarian alongside several rectangular barns capped by zinc-clad roofs and silos. The laboratory builds on these simple vernacular structures to create a high tech home for its cutting-edge program.

The design needed to accommodate the intense technical and security requirements of biocontainment research within a facility characterized by transparency, natural light and a connection to the surrounding landscape. This openness stands in opposition to the windowless-bunker-like buildings that often serve as biocontainment facilities.

Sitting at ground level, the research floor consists of two distinct areas: the headhouse (containing a management office, break room, lobby, service spaces and a lower containment lab) and the BSL-3+ biocontainment zone. A double-loaded corridor serves as the central organizational spine punctuated by a system of transparencies. Holding rooms paired with procedure rooms abut research laboratories to form flexible suites of space, each systematically independent from one another. The research-suite arrangement allows multiple projects to be conducted without confounding the risk of cross-contamination.

The suite configuration and robust interior finishes also allow for decontamination on a room-by-room basis (via gas or vapor). This facilitates continuous operation of adjacent research spaces and minimizes research interruption. The spartan biosafety environment contains gasketed, sealed, water-tight and air-tight surfaces, which ease the cleaning process and improve the visibility of particulate essential to the research of infectious diseases.

Transparency forms an extremely important part of the overall design strategy. For example, the BSL-3+ biocontainment environment, located across from the main stairway along the central spine, is visible from the lobby. This arrangement is made possible by a custom-designed fully glazed stainless-steel pass-through sterilizer used in place of heavy, opaque doors, linking the BSL-3+ environment to the outside world.

In addition, in contrast to the typical biocontainment facility, all of the Pell research labs and procedure rooms have access to natural light and views. For workers who spend much of their day in cumbersome protective equipment, access to the natural environment is greatly welcome.

Photography: © Warren Jagger Photography

Kevin B. Sullivan, FAIA