Israel Building Wins Top Design Award

October 25, 2001

Mary Ann Travis
Phone: 865-5714

On the last class day in September, the temperature and humidity seem in perfect balance. Cool, dry weather has arrived, and the blue of safety goggles visible in an Israel Building lab matches the blue of the sky. A garden on the buildings front-quad side seems in harmony, too, with clusters of purple cone flowers, Christmas fern, swamp lilies, blue phlox, bee balm and lady fernall native Louisiana plants. A tree has been planted in honor of Stuart Bamforth, emeritus professor of biology and founder of the environmental studies program.

On the other side of the building, palm trees shade the patio that separates the Israel Building and Percival Stern Hall. The Merryl and Sam J. Israel Jr. Environmental Sciences Building has just won the grand prize in the 2001 Education Design Showcase competition sponsored by the College and School Planning and Management magazines.

The building also has won other awards, including a National Commercial Builders Council Merit Award of Excellence for 2001, the American School and University Architectural Portfolio Educational Design Excellence Award for 2000, and an American Institute of Architects merit award from the New England AIA group. "If there is a feature of the building that could be singled out as deserving of accolades, it is the way the building gives a living room to the sciences," says its architect, Bill Wilson of William Wilson Associated Architects of Boston.

He recalls a quote from a 1980s yearbook in which a senior student said, "I passed underneath the sciences every day of the four years I was at Tulane, and I never knew they were there." For years, Stern Hall, built in 1971, stood alone as a bastion of hard science at Tulane. And it was possible to walk through Sterns breezeway, a heavily foot-trafficked, major passageway between the front part of campus and Freret Street, and not know, says Wilson, that there were hundreds of scientists above you. Wilson laughs, "It won't happen anymore."

John Klingman, professor of architecture, agrees that the Israel Building makes a real difference in terms of visibility and friendliness for the sciences at Tulane. Klingman was a member of the now-defunct Campus Planning Steering Committee, which was responsible for the architect selection and design review of the Israel Building and all major and minor projects within the university from 1991 until earlier this year.

Klingman cites the openness of the Israel Building interior and the outdoor spaces around the building as natural invitations for scientists, faculty and students to be visible and active. The Israel Building architecturally fits well on campus not only because it creates a friendly setting for Stern Hall, but also because, Klingman says, it mediates the nearby diminutive, yellow-brick Alcee Fortier Hall and the huge, gray Lindy Boggs Center for Energy and Biotechnology.

The Israel Building is almost exactly halfway in-between the height and color of those two buildings. Throughout the design process, planners made a conscious effort to stress the importance of ecological considerations or green architecture, says Klingman. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification of the building by the U.S. Green Building Council is pending.

LEED certification would be quite significant, says Klingman, because only approximately 100 buildings in the whole country have been certified according to this new standard. The Israel Building design succeeds both environmentally and architecturally, but its functionality also pleases its users. Faculty, staff, students and neighbors participated in the design process, and the building, which opened for classes in January 2000, has had few shakedown problems.

Tony Lorino, senior vice president for operations and chief financial officer, says the building is functioning properly and serving its purpose well. It is a practical building, Lorino adds. The chemistry department is one of the building's biggest users. The bottom floor houses the general chemistry lab and the organic chemistry lab occupies the top floor.

The two undergraduate labs allow us to handle 800 students a week, says Gary McPherson, professor of chemistry and associate dean of the liberal arts and sciences faculty. Besides adding instructional lab space, the building has been a spur to research productivity. Its two middle floors provide collaborative laboratory space for 10 faculty members, with room for two or three more, says McPherson.

The visibility and activity of the scientists extend beyond the Israel Buildings open labs and outside stairways. The cell and molecular biology, ecology and evolutionary biology, environmental engineering and chemistry researchers have more than $4 million in active grant funding, says McPherson. And they have published their research results in many prestigious international and national scientific journals. These young investigators are among the best and most promising faculty members at Tulane, McPherson says.

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000