Spiralling and inspired: the laboratory design that innovates inside

Spiralling and inspired: the laboratory design that innovates inside

Sitting squat and brutish in comparison to their towering city counterparts, buildings in the industrial area around Tokyo Bay would rarely be referred to as beautiful. That, however, doesn’t mean they aren’t imaginatively designed.

This U-shaped block is Spiralab, the brainchild of Masahiro Kinoshita at KINO architects, and its apparent simplicity belies its subtle and inspired design cues. Its simple geometric shape, for instance, is sliced on the horizontal to form a spiral — echoing the centrifuges which spin day and night within the chemistry research laboratories it contains.

The route inside stretches through three floors in a single elegant spiral”

That slice-and-spiral hints at the internal structure of the building, too. Kinoshita shunned the standard, compartmentalized arrangement beloved of most scientific institutions, instead favouring a fluidic, abstracted linear plan. Visitors pass through a reception area, then travel through auditoria, meeting rooms and laboratories — the route stretching its way through all three floors to create a single elegant spiral that loops from entrance to third floor. Kinoshita explains:

“The spiral shape responds to the three requests: research efficiency, high-security and comfort. Also, the spiral form becomes the key to the last request — symbolism. We think that true symbolism of architecture comes from the architecture itself; designed through logical thinking.”

Such logic is apt for a scientific building. This aptness of design carries through to the labs themselves, which are modular in design: power, drainage and water units are grouped and moveable, to allow for rapid changes in working space depending on the project in hand.

Like most new buildings in Japan, Spiralab is earthquake-proof, too. The whole building is built of angled columns that function as a cross between a rigid frame, like the old-school skyscrapers of New York, and a truss frame work, reminiscent of the pin-jointed structures you might find in garden trellis. Combined they support high vertical and horizontal forces – fundamental to a building’s ability to withstand the stresses of an earthquake.

Sprialab’s design is impressively creative – yet this is hard to see from the outside. An inherent need for space and functionality brings with it some design constraints, but the innovation on the inside leaves one wondering quite why the exterior hasn’t received the same treatment — Tokyo Bay would surely have been brightened by a flourish of the creativity used indoors, too.

If anything, that’s symptomatic of buildings of its kind: while city-centre skyscrapers dazzle with plate glass, gleaming chrome and angular poise, it seems the one boundary yet to be truly broken in laboratory architecture is that of the box.

Image by KINO Architects