Architectural lessons from an Ottawa Valley laboratory

Ottawa’s Architects DCA designs new R&D building for Chalk River complex

The new lab in Chalk River
The new lab in Chalk River

(Sponsored by Architects DCA)

Travel two hours northeast of Ottawa to Chalk River, and you’re likely to see the Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) – a complex established after the Second World War to provide nuclear research lab space for Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd.

While much of the core research and development kept pace with the times, the aging infrastructure had not, affecting the ability of scientists to engage in cutting-edge research in safe buildings that met their needs.

OBJ360 (Sponsored)

Ottawa-based Architects DCA, an architectural firm specializing in commercial, retail, industrial and institutional projects, had the unique pleasure of designing Building 350, Harriet Brooks Laboratory. Building 350 is a 137,000-square-foot facility, designed to bring a new level of R&D to this world-renowned site.

The building was completed in 2016, with ongoing work to fit out lab space with specialized equipment and provide a crucial first step for phasing in office space for future developments on the campus.

Building 350 has unique features including state-of-the-art laboratories and compliance with Leadership in Energy and Environment Design (LEED) Silver standards. Working with a consultant team, including some of the world’s leading laboratory specialists, the design provides flexible lab space with integrated systems for a variety of research functions to provide essential infrastructure for the scientific community.

The building was also designed with a 50-year life cycle in mind. This allows for the building investment to ensure longevity rather than a quick fix or short term gain. Critical to this is ensuring that the building is maintained during its lifecycle.

Carefully detailed operation manuals, combined with a durable design, provide a foundation for how the building can be easily maintained. High-quality masonry and metal cladding, UV-reflective roofing, and epoxy coated masonry and flooring provide long-term durability inside and out.

Easily replaceable and repairable interior finishes maximize recyclable materials and the ability to reconfigure work stations. Lab spaces are designed to be modular and flexible, providing core lab services both from below, and above, in dedicated mechanical service spaces.

Collaboration is a key aspect of the design and building program. During design, the project team collaborated on detailing and design elements to provide on-time deliverables, resulting in an on-time and on-budget construction project.

Anyone familiar with complex construction, especially on a remote site, knows that this is always a challenge. A good collaborative relationship between CNL, the contractor and the design team meant all worked together to resolve issues, stay on schedule, and be proactive. Key to this project’s success was having an excellent client. CNL staff inspired the project team to excellence.

Researchers need to collaborate too. Architects DCA created new office spaces that resulted in more open offices and plentiful meeting spaces, with fewer closed and isolated office functions.

Collaborative spaces for formal meetings, as well as informal gathering spaces promote the idea that researchers can work together, learning from each other, and benefiting society as a whole.

Architects DCA recognizes that programming is a critical part of the design process. The firm enjoys figuring out what the client needs, and creating innovative solutions to meet the objectives of a sustainable, durable, beautiful building.

The architecture firm’s expertise in project delivery extends through critical stages of a project, delivering value from inception to decades after construction is complete. High-quality built form takes time, takes effort and takes a talented team of consultants, clients and contractors.

Toon Dreessen is president of Ottawa-based Architects DCA and past-president of the Ontario Association of Architects. For a sample of Architects DCA’s projects, check out the firm’s portfolio at

Follow @ArchitectsDCA on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram.

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