Pei designed this 3-story biomedical facility for Buck Center, a research pioneer singularly devoted to the study of aging and age-related diseases. He expressed personal interest in the research, being 72 at the time and preparing to retire from the firm he had founded decades earlier. (Pei went on to practice independently for another 25+ years before passing in 2019 at the ripe age of 102).
The complex is located on a 488-acre site in the foothills of Mount Burdell in Marin County, some 30 miles north of San Francisco. It was designed to take full advantage of the rolling hillside through strategically located glass walls and oversized windows, many with floor-to-ceiling views, and airy stairways, both open and glazed, that put the landscape on display. The exterior is clad in imported honey-toned limestone that blends with the color of native grasses. Inside, the same fine stone defines an imposing entrance and reception hall. The space comes to life with the play of shadows and changing natural light from a sloped triangular skylight. The 50-foot-high stone-framed prow is seen from a distance, rising over the hills to identify Buck Center in a quiet balance of architecture and nature.
Pei’s master plan called for a complex of five interconnected components, including a curved main building (housing reception, administrative offices, conference rooms, dining, and support) and four elongated laboratory wings, all organized around a landscaped 1-acre hexagonal courtyard. As in the National Center for Atmospheric Research that Pei designed some three decades earlier, interior spaces were designed to promote interaction among the scientists. Here, a skylit atrium in each laboratory wing provides a central communal space, with other highly visible links like stairs and pedestrian spines to increase opportunities for personal connections.
The complex was designed to be executed in phases as allowed by program and budget. The central building and an adjacent laboratory wing were completed in 1999. A second laboratory wing was completed in 2012 to Pei’s specifications (except for the substitution of less expensive local limestone).
The project was awarded First Prize, Structural/Buildings Category by the New York Association of Consulting Engineers in 2001.
Design Team: I.M. Pei, Design Partner; L.C. Pei, Design Architect
Pei Cobb Freed & Partners