Published on June 7th, 2017 | by UC&D Magazine


Building Chemistry

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BioFire’s new five-story, 290,000 SF multi-purpose facility brings the company together under one roof and effortlessly blends a variety of spaces, from manufacturing and office space to biosafety labs.

Fanfare, it seems, is often overrated. Most residents of the Salt Lake Valley, for example, remain blissfully unaware of the stunning new $75+ million headquarters that recently opened in the University of Utah’s Research Park. Where the building’s owners, architects and contractors are stoked, however, there’s BioFire.
“This has been a remarkable experience for everyone involved, said Bobby Johnston, project manager with Okland Construction, which handled general contractor duties. “We always joked that it was the biggest project in the valley very few people have ever heard about.”
“Very few people realize we erected a five-level building with floorplates of approximately 100,000 square feet in Research Park,” said Bill Phifer, VP of facilities at BioFire Diagnostics. “The unique geometry of the parcel, the selection of natural Utah sandstone and the way the building is integrated into the hillside all complement one another nicely. It is only once inside that visitors are struck by the sheer enormity of the floorplates. Along with parking and mechanical spaces, we have approximately 480,000 square feet under roof.”
According to Phifer, BioFire – an industry leader in infectious disease diagnostics – made the decision to expand its facilities in June of 2014. Prior to the expansion, BioFire occupied five separate buildings in Research Park. The company’s founders were part of the University of Utah and there was a strong desire to remain in the area.
Within the next two months, Phifer had enlisted FFKR Architects of Salt Lake for the design and Internet Properties to serve as the owner’s rep for the project. Okland Construction signed on in the fall. After the demolition of a smaller clinic building onsite, the new project broke ground in April of 2015.
“The condensed time for this project was my major concern, and it was dealt with collaboratively by all members of the team,” Phifer said. “FFKR had a very
condensed design window, and we began excavation and pouring footings without complete design documents. A high degree of trust was shared among the members
of the team, and concerns were shared openly and voiced freely. Okland used a very innovative concrete-forming system that allowed unheard of production rates from their team, allowing the underground parking garage and foundation to be completed rapidly.”
“The site and the schedule were both enormous challenges that needed to be addressed,” said Eric Thompson, AIA, principal, FFKR Architects.
Thompson said the building site drops over 100 feet from the upper parking level down to the entrance on Colorow Drive.
“We needed to fit 110,000 square feet of structured parking and 290,000 square feet of occupied space onto that hillside,” Thompson said. “In order to accomplish this, both parking levels and one occupied level were designed to be below grade on the east side of the building.”
Additionally, Thompson said, a large portion of the hill needed to be excavated and permanently shored on the north side of the building to allow for a large
loading dock on the first level to serve BioFire’s manufacturing operations.
“The building was so large that we had already topped out the steel on the west side … while we were still trying to excavate footings on the far east side
of the site,” Johnston said. “Until you’ve walked through the building, it’s difficult to understand its size and magnitude.”
Nestled into approximately 13 acres, the visual exterior highlight is a curved radius facade.
“The unique curved facade along Colorow Drive is the most commented aspect of the building, along with the stunning views once inside,” Phifer said. “However, from the owner’s perspective, the way the sheer size of the building blends with the site and natural surroundings, I think, is a major accomplishment.”
The exterior made use of natural sandstone, quarried in southern Utah, setting up a nice complement between the finished building and the surrounding hillside, Phifer said.
Thompson naturally pointed to the sweeping curve of the west wing as a highlight, but also said that a pair of two story lobbies also serve as hallmarks of the headquarters.
“The two-story lobbies serve to separate the three major office blocks from each other and become intersections for informal collaboration and unobstructed views south along the Wasatch range,” he said.
“The views are absolutely stunning and nearly 360 degrees,” Phifer said. “There isn’t a bad office view in the project. As the southern exposure overlooks This is the Place State Park and Mt. Olympus, the executive offices were arranged to take advantage of this protected-view corridor, while conference rooms and research offices enjoy downtown views that extend past the airport to the Great Salt Lake and Antelope Island.”
Some additional architectural flourishes speak to BioFire’s mission and branding.
“Custom-woven carpet tiles with a gradient design, some with electrolastic dissipation, were milled using a custom color based on the BioFire logo and corporate brand for a subtle coordinated connection,” said Chris Bachorowski, AIA, associate, for FFKR. “A custom-designed sculpture was flown in from France for the project. Artwork by the sculptor is displayed at all of the parent company’s major buildings.”
In addition to labs for research, engineering, testing and manufacturing central to BioFire’s mission, Thompson said the building includes 26 conference rooms, six break rooms, a fitness center, five patios and a cafeteria.
“The BioFire Diagnostics facility is as feature rich as a small city,” he said. With the noteworthy project complete, the principals are left to bask in the overall scope and beauty of the finished project – even if it is largely flying under the radar from a public recognition standpoint.
“This is a state-of-the-art facility that has exceeded all expectations,” Phifer said. “Now that the project is completed, most of the individuals involved with (it) marvel at what we were able to achieve,” Johnston said.

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