From Art to Science: Transforming a Museum Into an All-Electric Coworking Lab

Marco Alves, PAE
Kevin Koblik, MBH Architects

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This presentation will discuss Bakar BioEnginuity Hub, the rehabilitation of a landmark University of California Berkeley building converting it from an art museum into a well-equipped 95,000 SF life-science laboratory. The project revitalizes the structure currently known as Woo Hon Fai Hall, bringing it into the modern era, while preserving its historical significance. Designed by Mario Ciampi in the 1970s, the historic brutalist-style building made use of sharp angles and deep cantilevered concrete masses pushing the structural and mechanical boundaries of the time. This made it a challenging space to retrofit into an incubator-style life sciences laboratory. The goal of the completed space is to bridge the gap between graduate studies, life science start-ups, and established biotech companies in the community by providing well-equipped research space, which would typically be cost-prohibitive to young companies.

Through careful planning, extensive coordination, and constant reassessment of strategies, the design and engineering team was able to fit a new program and, energy-efficient Mechanical, Engineering, and Plumbing (MEP) infrastructure within the highly unorthodox space, while protecting the historic fabric and upgrading structural performance of the building to meet modern seismic codes. Due to the limited ductwork shaft space, the HVAC system makes use of a fully manifolded supply and ventilation air system that provides healthy and safe ventilation for the entire space. The chilled and heated hot water is generated by a modular air-source heat pump (ASHP), which can operate in a high-efficiency simultaneous heat-recovery mode. The result is that the project is projected to operate at an energy usage intensity (EUI) of 81 kBtu/SF-Yr, a 33 percent reduction when compared to the LEED baseline, and a 63 percent reduction when compared to a similar lab in the Labs21 database. The fully manifolded HVAC design consolidates and simplifies maintenance, since there is a single Air Handling Unit (AHU), exhaust fan system, and plant generating heated and chilled water. This HVAC design makes the project more cost and space efficient, with N+1 system redundancy provided for each of the systems due to the modularity of the equipment and design.

The project overcame many programming and MEP design challenges to become an all-electric, low EUI, and zero-HVAC-water-use building, demonstrating that even challenging rehabilitations can strive for high efficiency goals in energy and water usage. Ultimately, Bakar BioEnginuity Hub proves that imaginative uses can be made to work in uncompromising structures, and encourages other universities in retrofitting important, older buildings for modern laboratory uses.

Learning Objectives

  • Gain greater understanding of how to identify programming uses in non-traditional and challenging spaces: how to look beyond pre-conceived notions;
  • Learn how to turn historical, structural, and programming challenges into design advantages;
  • Understand how to integrate healthy design into historical building rehabilitation projects; and
  • Learn how to push the energy and water efficiency project goals in rehabilitation projects, use electrification and creative MEP space planning to the project's advantage.


Marco has 20 years of experience in mechanical systems design and 15 in MEP project management. A skillful engineer, Marco has been involved in the design of numerous energy-efficient, LEED certified, and net-zero energy projects. Marco has also led the mechanical design for various laboratory and healthcare projects where simple, yet innovative, and data driven solutions were used to reduce energy use, while keeping system reliability and building user safety as the primary project goals.

A Senior Associate, Kevin has contributed to a variety of project types including multi-family, workspace, and laboratory projects over the course of his 13-year tenure at MBH Architects. Most recently, Kevin has been collaborating with QB3 and MBC Biolabs, designing ground up and tenant improvement lab spaces across the San Francisco Bay Area. His ability to apply wide reaching knowledge to solve complex challenges make him an innovative asset to clients and an invaluable mentor to his team.


Note: Abstracts and biographies are displayed as submitted by the author(s) with the exception of minor edits for style, grammar consistency, and length.