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July 3rd, 2007
Sure, the building's just a box, but what a box
In today's world of iconic architecture that defies gravity with glee, there's something refreshing about the Molecular Foundry at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. It's just a black metal box, four stories high and 242 feet long -- pure streamlined punch.
True, the narrow box extends 50 feet beyond the steep hillside where it begins, poised in air above a roadway. And the Hayward Fault runs barely a mile to the west, below the laboratory's forested ridges.
But the Molecular Foundry's triumph is that the eye-popping slab seems right at home. The structure is a logical outgrowth of what goes on inside, engineered with common sense despite its uncommon perch. There's not one gratuitous flourish. That's why the Foundry deserves attention, even though it is off-limits to the public and almost invisible from afar.
The Foundry was designed by the San Francisco office of SmithGroup architects. It opened last year, a $52 million research center focused on nanoscience, a field I make no pretense of understanding. In addition to the four stories on view, wrapped in a tight skin of aluminum panels and recessed windows, two floors are burrowed within the hillside -- hidden behind a concrete wall that also serves as part of the box's base.
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