Planning for net-zero Physical Sciences and Engineering Building speeds up in Yale’s science push
After being announced in Feb. 2020, planning for the Physical Science and Engineering Building, set to finish construction in 2027 is now further underway, as faculty committees evaluate equipment needs and impact on current buildings.
Zoe Berg, Photo Editor
Preliminary planning has begun on the Physical Science and Engineering Building, or PSEB, a new more-than-$350 million facility earmarked for completion in 2027 that will focus on initiatives in quantum and material science.
PSEB will be located north of Bass Center and east of the Class of 1954 Chemistry Research Building, near Wright Laboratory. The project was first announced in February of 2020, with construction set to begin by 2023 and a tentative completion date set for late 2026. On Dec. 1, University Provost Scott Strobel announced the formation of the Phase 2 committee, which includes members of faculty, facilities and administrators from across the University. The committee’s role is to collaborate with architects to inform preliminary designs for the space.
The 26-member committee is co-chaired by Physics Department chair and Wright Laboratory director Karsten Heeger and applied physics, physics, mechanical engineering and materials science professor Sohrab Ismail-Beigi.
“Thus far, the committee has discussed the intellectual vision for Phase 2 of PSEB, the laboratory and workspace specifications needed to support those visions, and how to build community around those visions,” Heeger and Ismail-Beigi wrote in a joint email to the News. “The work of the committee will inform an iterative design process over the next 18-24 months resulting in a comprehensive set of construction plans.”
Per their email, construction is set to begin in the early spring of 2023. Within the ongoing Phase 2 planning, however, students will likely see construction activity on Science Hill, as work begins on several enabling projects — buildings that need to be removed or built before construction on the main PSEB can begin.
The new facility includes a 253,000 square foot research laboratory building, a 48,000 square foot addition to Wright Laboratory and a 220-space parking garage. Yale signed a $365 million contract with Turner Construction Company, which announced in October that the project will focus on sustainability through a net-zero strategy.
“A net zero strategy in building design refers to the engineering features and operational modalities that minimize the building’s energy consumption,” Heeger and Ismail-Beigi wrote. “This is an ambitious goal for laboratory buildings, which have demanding energy needs, and is not addressed by a singular feature. Everything from the building’s mechanical controls to energy recovery equipment to how materials are sourced to the façade impact the strategy.”
In order to make space for PSEB, Heeger and Ismail-Beigi told the News that Wright Lab West and the Wright Lab Connector will be demolished. Programs that occupy parts of the two buildings will move to new laboratories that are set to be built during the first construction phase, planned for spring 2023, and before any building demolition.
According to Heeger and Ismail-Beigi, Wright Lab West and the Wright Lab Connector were constructed over 70 years ago and are currently being used for a much different purpose than they were originally designed for.
The co-chairs also noted that Wright Lab is set to continue its scientific program over the full duration of PSEB’s construction. While the impact on students will “vary depending on site location,” they wrote that any potential impacts will be minimized by moving operations into those newly-created laboratories.
According to Turner’s press release, the project will include the demolition of a parking garage and chemical safety building, relocation of utilities to below-ground and the remediation of soil in the area.
Based on a presentation shared at a February 2020 town hall during the initial announcement of the building’s construction, a temporary chemical safety building will be constructed prior to the demolition of the existing facility. The new parking lot is also slated for construction north of Wright Lab. Per Heeger and Ismail-Beigi’s email, these enabling projects will take place during Phase 2, which is scheduled to continue for the next 18 to 24 months.
However, the co-chairs wrote that there are still ongoing discussions about some of these construction details, including the chemical safety building.
“We have not confirmed plans for [the chemical safety building] of the project and several other areas that need continued operations,” Heeger and Ismail-Beigi wrote. “The initial stages of planning relies heavily on faculty feedback and suggestions. The information contained in the release [from Turner] reflected one moment in the iterative planning process and is now outdated.”
During Phase 1, three committees — PSEB Cores, Advanced Instrumentation Development Center and Wright Lab Addition — led research and advising efforts for the building.
Professor of Chemistry James Mayer has served on the PSEB Cores committee since spring 2021, as well as on the Chemical Safety Building Committee and Physical Sciences Cores committee. According to Mayer, the PSEB Cores committee discusses the needs for, and implementation of, a clean room and instrumentation space in PSEB, and that the Physical Sciences Cores committee discusses instrumentation needs across the University overall.
Mayer said the University is working diligently to address the needs of the PSEB in designs and planning, and the committees he serves on mostly work to inform architects, although he is not certain how they will use the information they are gathering on what equipment Yale currently has and needs.
In the initial February 2020 presentation, University administrators noted that the building will house faculty from the Applied Physics, chemical and environmental engineering, computer science, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, materials science and physics departments.
Though the building is specifically intended for the physical sciences, its construction will also impact other STEM departments. Biomedical engineering chair James Duncan said that the restructuring of space among the engineering and applied science departments is intended to benefit all disciplines in the long-term.
“The hope is that long-term, as the other departments move to this new building, that’ll free up space in and around the engineering campus,” Duncan said. “Our [biomedical engineering] central building is the Malone Center, and most of our primary faculty that are based on the engineering campus are in there. And there’s [a] reasonable amount of room, but you’re always stretched … as graduate students grow. So as other buildings around engineering get renovated and converted, as some folks from mechanical engineering and applied physics move up to the new building, that’ll free up some space.”
The puzzle of allocating space among the biomedical engineering department is “further complicated,” Duncan said, because several faculty members are based on Yale’s West Campus.
Duncan also noted that the biomedical engineering department is somewhat unique as far as space management goes because a number of faculty members, including himself, hold joint appointments in the Yale School of Medicine. As such, biomedical engineering faculty sometimes can utilize space there.
“While the dean of engineering can’t plan for that, and there’s always a need for space on the engineering campus, [using the Medical School] is sort of a backstop,” Duncan said. “The overall picture is to try to help engineering as a whole, and so as new space becomes available, other space typically will get freed up in one way or another.”
Mayer said that Yale has been very generous to the chemistry department, but also noted some lack of space for the engineering departments.
“I’m not saying [the Chemistry department] has no needs and I’m not an expert on the needs in other departments by any means,” Mayer told the News. “It seems to me if you’ve walked into engineering buildings, they are really squeezed.”
Mayer also told the News that the Cores Planning Committee is discussing exciting and state-of-the-art equipment for the new core facilities in PSEB, but that these purchases are only being advised on at this time.
“We have a list of equipment, a wish list of things we really, really want and things that would be nice to have,” Mayer said, “That will inform decisions and I assume will be part of the metric for decisions in four or five years when those instruments are actually purchased.”
The construction of PSEB is one of many building and relocation projects underway on campus.