Gregory Blackburn, FAIA, a member of AIA San Francisco, was elevated to Fellowship in the AIA this year. He was recognized for leadership in the evolution of engineering and life science research and instructional facilities. By artfully fusing a building’s technical demands with the human need for interaction, Blackburn has created inspired new models for flexible teaching and research space. His innovative research buildings for a wide range of national and international universities not only spark innovation and progress inside academia, but also are widely recognized as benchmark projects, both for architects and facilities owners.
Blackburn unites buildings and exterior space to create powerful connections within the campus environment. The exterior spaces realized by his buildings lie at the heart of the design and are inseparable from the buildings themselves. They embrace their responsibility to be resonant parts of a greater campus community while maintaining their singular identities and creating powerful catalysts for the enduring physical evolution of their place. By thoughtfully considering the spaces between building elements, Blackburn creates memorable places of lasting strength and significance that transcend simple function and bring meaning and coherence to the larger campus communities in which they exist. His buildings acknowledge campus heritage and history, while establishing a new design standard, repairing incomplete and damaged contexts, and generating the form and character of new ones.
The conceptual clarity and consistent logic of Blackburn’s work is manifest in the integrity of its construction. Working with a materials palette drawn from the project’s context, he employs construction technologies to distinguish those materials, accentuating their role in defining the campus’ character. His work tells a story about the building’s making and the nature of its materials, providing a distinct visual identity for the institution and raising the level of design on the campus.
Blackburn is an active participant with the Society for College and University Planning, and has spoken extensively at a wide range of regional, national and international professional conferences. He has served on three occasions as a panelist and design review board member for the National Institutes of Health, and has twice served as Executive-in-Residence for the Department of Architectural Studies of the College of Human + Environmental Sciences at the University of Missouri. He has long served as a mentor and advisor to young designers and interns in the profession, and is active in supporting organizations within his community through both membership and active board participation.
In addition to more than two dozen completed academic science buildings, Blackburn’s work includes most recently the Laboratory Exemplar, a self-funded R+D study by Anshen+Allen (now Stantec), which examines the way research laboratory buildings have been designed through history, including current state-of-the-art approaches, and tries to anticipate how they will need to be designed, constructed and occupied in our near future.
Working in collaboration with institutional partners at Stanford and Yale Universities, and with the support of a select team of engineering and design collaborators, Blackburn’s team re-formulated realistic environments for discovery, to provide innovative platforms for conducting new millennium science, while radically reducing energy and resource consumption.
The institutional partners contributed real campus building sites and functional programs already in development. Working within these realistic parameters, the design team developed and modeled the performance of new idealized building systems and building design, thinking “out-of-the-box.” Throughout this process the institutional partners participated in reviewing, evaluating and extending these ideas, to bring them closer to application.
Ultimately, through the incorporation of renewable energy sources, this work seeks to reverse the traditional paradigm of research buildings as extreme energy consumers, instead casting our future centers of discovery as energy producers in the campus setting.
This study also offers insights into planning and design approaches that would potentially reduce the time to beneficial occupancy. There is a significant conflict between the pace of architecture and that of science. Currently, the programming, planning, design, construction and commissioning of a new science building can take up to five years. Science and technology are moving at a much more rapid pace. In a five-year period, the need for a particular research building, or the manner in which it is outfitted, may have changed dramatically. This study proposes alternative design and fabrication approaches, which would potentially reduce this time by 40-50%.