Interior atrium of the Allen Institute
Interior atrium of the Allen Institute

Allen Institute for Brain Science

Seattle, Washington
Design for Big Science, Open Science, Team Science

Having spent many years scattered across numerous locations, The Allen Institute decided to build one new headquarters on a holistic site in the South Lake Union neighborhood of Seattle. Consolidation would finally allow this bioscience research company to leverage its trademark approach: one that combines big science, team science and open science.

Our team designed the new environment to encourage collaboration, offer flexibility, and break down barriers of private research practices. Conventional research buildings lack transparency and connection among users and the outside world. We broke these rules of conventional lab organization by arranging “petals” of functional space around a central atrium. This maximizes daylight and views while visually and spatially connecting the activities throughout the building.

By designing from the inside out, our team created a research headquarters that promotes collaborative interaction to facilitate rapid advancements in brain and cell research.

“I have never seen or been in a building that matches its functionality (and aesthetics). One sees conversations throughout the building all of the time—we meet colleagues in the central stairwell and make connections that we had not anticipated.”

Rick Horwitz, Executive Director, Allen Institute for Cell Science

South view of Allen Institute
Exterior view of the Allen Institute with cyclist biking past.
Historic Restoration and Integration

The site of the Institute was originally home to the 1920s Ford and Pacific McKay buildings. To preserve these former car showrooms, the historic buildings were cataloged, disassembled, and reconstructed along with the new structure. The restoration incorporated 2,760 pieces of terra cotta and 966 decorative plaster elements.

Employees conversing in collaboration pod that juts out into the atrium of the Allen Institute
Cantilevered pods for collaborative meetings extend into the atrium
Large atrium with stairs and views to four stories of research labs
The six-story atrium is connected with a beautiful communicating stair
Intentional Collisions

A six-story atrium with a stunning central stair acts as the catalyst for intentional collisions. Departments cross on the stairs and across the atrium, which spark conversations and ignite research collaborations. Cantilevered pods extend into the atrium and are used for spontaneous meetings which are often a source of creative sparks.

Man and woman sitting on wooden bench outside research lab
Lab fronts are transparent to give a sense of “passing through”
Unconventional Lab Planning

Conventional lab organization stratifies functional uses with linear zones of programs. Our design team organized the Allen Institute, however, with “petals” of functional spaces around an atrium. The labs are also strategically located away from the exterior allowing for circulation on both sides. Embodying the principle of “open science,” two sides of the lab are glazed which provides maximum light and allows researchers to see from one end of the building to the other.

People relaxing and casually talking on deck with views to Lake Union
Illuminated graphic on exterior wall of the Allen Institute
Artful communication via a virtual window into research
Abstract sculptures of two people outside the Allen Institute
Art plays a unique part at the Allen Institute
Unique pieces of art have been integrated throughout the building as well as the exterior
“To say the project was a success is an understatement. Staff collaboration and their sheer excitement to come to work in such a visually stunning space has been beyond our hopes”

Dave Poston, Chief Financial Advisor, Allen Institute

Project Team

Kay Kornovich
Erik Mott
Gavin Smith