Sarafan ChEM-H and Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute Wins SEFA Lab of the Year

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Ennead Architects is proud to announce that Sarafan ChEM-H (Chemistry, Engineering & Medicine for Human Health) and Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute at Stanford University has been awarded SEFA Lab of the Year, a renowned global award recognizing industry-leading innovation in laboratory design. The honor is given to projects that demonstrate excellence in planning, design and execution, as well as sustainability, human experience, and the overall support of scientific advancement. 

The research complex, which opened in 2019, fosters interdisciplinary connections between two institutes investigating fundamental problems in the increasingly convergent disciplines of neuroscience, chemistry, engineering, and medicine, opening the way to discoveries that will help improve human health. It is home to an array of leading researchers, including the 2022 Nobel Prize in Chemistry laureate.

Led by Ennead Partner Richard Olcott FAIA FAAR and Principal Stephen PD Chu AIA, working closely with the ChEM-H and Neuroscience executive committees, Ennead’s design aimed to forge new collaborations on Stanford’s campus.

“We are honored to receive this prestigious award for the ChEM-H and Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute project,” said Richard Olcott FAIA FAAR, Design Partner at Ennead Architects. “This project was a collaborative effort, and it reflects our commitment to scientific advancement through innovation, sustainability, and design excellence. We want to express our gratitude to our talented team and partners who helped bring this vision to life.”

“This recognition also underscores the importance of creating spaces that inspire, advance and connect scientific research and education,” said Stephen P-D Chu AIA, Principal at Ennead Architects. “The project is a crossroads between increasingly convergent disciplines, and it meets the needs of today while setting the stage for the breakthroughs of tomorrow.”

The four-story, 231,883 GSF research complex is strategically shared between Sarafan ChEM-H (Chemistry, Engineering & Medicine for Human Health) and the Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute and split into co-equal buildings that are connected by walkways and bridges. Together, the two buildings surround an elliptical courtyard — an inviting outdoor gathering area with lush plantings and ample seating. This central communal space forms the social heart of the two institutes, which are now purposefully co-located and engaged in active dialogue. A common interior “living room” surrounds the ellipse, with a continuous exterior terrace on the second floor wrapping around the garden courtyard below.

A departure from conventional lab planning, these open, light-filled “living room” spaces which are linked by a common racetrack circulation zone organize the building into distinct research neighborhoods. The living rooms provide shared meeting rooms, kitchenettes, and break-out spaces to promote exchange between scientists across neighborhoods in both institutes.

While the two buildings appear equal and similar from the exterior, the inside of each is finely tuned to the distinct programmatic needs of the respective institutes. A distinguishing feature of the Neurosciences building is the Theory Center, an independent “building within the building” facing the courtyard which houses the theory and computational labs. The theory scientists are intentionally located within the “living room” to further encourage collaboration among the various principal investigators and graduate researchers. In the ChEM-H building, meeting rooms are stacked in the double-height living room space to facilitate communication. In both buildings, the scientists’ offices are clustered around an open spiral stair. A series of enclosed and open conference and meeting spaces face the verdant courtyard, while the lab spaces face outward with views to the campus. Labs for both institutes are designed to be flexible and highly customizable, accommodating a wide variety of research approaches.

The common spaces of the complex act as a magnet to draw in the Stanford community. These amenities include a pub, multi-purpose meeting space, and specialty lab programs that are not found anywhere else on campus.

Paired with the diagonal cut through the complex, the courtyard establishes a layout that emphasizes the flow between laboratory neighborhoods and the facility’s connectivity to the rest of the Stanford campus, as it is a gateway between the School of Medicine to the north and the Science and Engineering Quad to the south.

The Sarafan ChEM-H (Chemistry, Engineering & Medicine for Human Health) and the Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute buildings are clad in limestone and concrete, materials that are typical to the campus. The two buildings are surmounted by roofs clad in a flat red tile, a modern interpretation of the traditional Stanford Spanish Revival style. The elliptical cutout at the center creates a distinctive sculptural roof profile, a harbinger that these are not typical Stanford buildings, hints that something special is going on within.


The building massing was developed with deep roofs and overhangs to provide inherent shading, for reduced solar heat gain, and increased user comfort. When selecting exterior materials, high-durability and low-emitting materials were prioritized. Energy efficiency measures implemented for the project include setback of background air change rates in lab spaces from six to four during unoccupied periods, fume hood auto sash closers, efficient mechanical equipment, optimized lighting power densities, and advanced envelope measures, including high-performance low-e and fritted glazing and increased insulation thicknesses above what is required by code. Low-flow water fixtures reduce overall water consumption and potable water for sewage conveyance. Storm water is managed responsibly on-site in landscaped bioswales. The need for irrigation is minimized by native/adapted plants in the landscape.


Ennead is proud to have collaborated with many firms to bring this building to fruition, including: Laboratory Planner: GL Planning & Design, Inc.; Structural Engineer: Degenkolb Engineers; MEP Engineer: Gayner Engineers; Civil Engineer: MacKay and Somps; Geotechnical Consultant: Cornerstone Earth Group, Inc.; Landscape Architect: GGN (Gustafson Guthrie Nichol Ltd); Acoustics Consultant: Robert F Mahoney & Associates; Audiovisual Consultant Code: Audio Visual Design Group; Code/Life Safety: Hughes Associates, Inc.; Sustainability Consultant: Atelier Ten Consulting Environmental Designers; Curtainwall: Heintges & Associates; Wind Tunnel Testing: Ambient Air Technologies, LLC; and Construction Manager: Whiting-Turner Contracting Company.

Ennead’s laboratory portfolio

Ranging from biomedical research to engineering to commercial life sciences, Ennead Architects has a diverse portfolio of laboratory buildings for teaching, research, and innovation that respond to institutional mission and optimize the quality of working environments so that scientific discovery can thrive. Ennead’s body of work includes: the University of Oregon Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact Building 1; the University of Michigan Biomedical Science Research Building and the Biological Sciences Building and Museum of Natural History; the New York Stem Cell Foundation Research Institute Laboratory; NYU Langone Health Science Building; Stanford University Bass Biology Building; Weill Cornell Medicine Belfer Research Building; Vassar College Bridge for Laboratory Sciences; The University of Texas at Austin Cockrell School of Engineering, Engineering Education and Research Center (EERC) and Gary L. Thomas Energy Engineering Building (GLT); UC Santa Cruz Interdisciplinary and Instructional Research Building; and Princeton University’s Environmental Studies (ES) and The School of Engineering Applied Science (SEAS) complex, among others.

Learn more about the project here.