Setting a New Standard for Chemistry
A building whose design and sustainability matches the rigor of its world-renowned program

Less than half of the laboratory space was assigned by the completion of the Construction Documents. The remainder of the building was to be fitted out for the specific research needs of subsequently recruited faculty members. Accordingly, adaptability and flexibility of the laboratories was essential to the design approach. Generic laboratories were designed to the identified disciplines anticipated for faculty recruitment. Since the inception of construction, a significant percentage of the laboratories have been adapted to the specific research of new faculty members. This is achieved through the rigorous modularity of the laboratory design: flexible laboratory casework and fume hoods along with a modular and easily accessible systems infrastructure. The 12’- 3” high laboratory ceilings allows natural light to penetrate deeply into the lab, while providing access to the exposed systems.


Princeton University
Frick Chemistry Laboratory

Princeton, NJ / United States


265,000 GSF


Princeton University needed to revive the Chemistry Department, which was languishing in an isolated, outdated facility, in order to attract the top faculty and elevate the program’s rankings. Another goal was to expand the focus of research and increase interactions with other sciences to solve broader questions.

The design of the new research building had to balance the complicated technical requirements with space that would be very attractive to faculty as a work environment. The design began with generic lab space and then developed detailed individual requirements for the faculty labs once the space was assigned, designing the labs to fit each individual’s needs.       

Princeton’s new remarkable Frick Chemistry Laboratory replaces the nation’s oldest chemistry building and revitalizes the department. This modern building, comprising a laboratory block and three office blocks across a central atrium, was designed to foster cross-disciplinary collaboration. Payette reinterpreted typical chemistry labs to achieve transparency across the building so that the write-up areas, laboratories, group rooms and offices are all visibly linked across the width of the building.

It was also vital that there was a visible link between the floors, which was achieved by locating the atrium along the length of the building to create a single space. This focal point brings everyone together, helping to integrate general teaching and high-level research while enhancing collaboration and creativity. The atrium accommodates informal workplaces, a café with views out to the forest and high-level bridges that connect offices with laboratories, and is interlocked with adjacent offices by a series of elegantly designed open stairs threaded through the building. The scientists now work in this glass loft with views through the building and a sense of openness that captures the spirit of collaboration.

Research laboratories on the upper three floors are designed as open environments with desks adjacent to daylight from the exterior or the atrium. Adaptable labs support bench, fume hood, and instrumentation research. Four zones of “compatible” research can be assigned to faculty on a bench-by-bench basis in response to the shifting demands of research. The open lab concept allows natural light deep into the space and creates remarkable transparency achieved by the elimination of the traditional laboratory corridor. Teaching laboratories, fully visible from the atrium, have all glass fume hoods dedicated to each student affording them unique, research-like experience.

Sustainability Strategies
Sustainable design strategies and technologies are integral to the building concept and design. The atrium has a glass roof shaded by photovoltaic glass panels. Mechanical systems include heat recovery technologies. Demands on conditioned air are reduced with an airflow design that transfers conditioned air from the offices through the atrium and into the labs. Chilled beams heat and cool the office wing and work in concert with natural ventilation provided by full height sliding doors. High performance glazing and integrated cast aluminum sunshades maximize the energy performance of the building envelope.

In collaboration with Hopkins Architects, Design Architect.
Photography: © Warren Jagger Photography

Robert J. Schaeffner FAIA, LEED AP

Barry A. Shiel AIA
Project Manager