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Oil Spill Research & Response Laboratory Design


Sault St. Marie, MI

Original Project Year:



To design a mixed use laboratory for the research of more effective solutions to cleaning up oil spills and a coast guard station for the response to oil spills.

The Site:

Having a site situated so far north, weather conditions became crucial to the consideration of the design. Snow weights, low temperatures, high precipitation, cloud cover, and wind speeds all affected the final design.

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The Design:

At its core, this laboratory is dedicated to the preservation of nature. Shintoism served as a large inspiration towards the thinking of this design, living within nature. Within Shintoism are emotions that do no directly translate, these are new ways of approaching and thinking about the organization of separate spaces.

View the project presentation boards
View the project information booklet
View the Lab Requirements
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Sault Ste Marie Oil Spill Research Lab Floor Plan, Zachery Teall, Zach Teall, Teall

Client Requirements

  • All lab spaces must be designed using 11' x 11' modules which can be used in one or two directions

  • Laboratories required:

    • Development of Detection and Monitoring Technology: This robotics lab will develop and test autonomous underwater vehicles and sensors used for evaluation of pipelines and other relevant infrastructure. This research also entails analysis, interpretation and visualization.

    • Chemical Dynamics: This physical chemistry lab will study the behavior of oil under various weather conditions, including ice cover.

    • Ecotoxicology: This aquatic biology lab will conduct testing to understand the impacts of various oil compounds on freshwater organisms.

  • All laboratories should accommodate all of the following:

    • 1 Wet Lab (equipped for research activity involving chemicals, liquids, gases, etc)

    • 1 Dry Lab (equipped primarily for computational and analytical research)

    • Support Spaces (accommodates storage, equipment and specialized facilities)

    • Writing and Evaluation Spaces (for documenting research results)

    • Collaboration Space

  • Coast Guard Spaces Required:

    • 4 Administrative offices: 120 sf

    • Administrative open office: 240 sf

    • Classroom 360 sf

    • Operations command center: 360 sf

    • Operations storage: 600 sf

    • Locker area (men’s and women’s; includes toilet rooms and laundry): 600 sf

    • Maintenance work-bay (for the maintenance of boats and equipment): 1440 sf

    • Machine shop: 600 sf

    • Storage: 480 sf

    • Gym: 240 sf

    • Lounge: 240 sf

    • Loading and receiving: 240 sf

    • Barracks: 240 sf

  • General Spaces Required:

    • Mechanical (must accommodate the demand of all lab spaces and coast guard spaces): 1200 sf

    • Electrical: 240 sf

    • Building storage: 120 sf

    • Toilet rooms (includes men's, women's, and gender neutral): 360 sf

    • Dining hall: 480 sf

    • Kitchen: 360 sf


MA (mah):

Ma is emptiness without absence.

It is the space between objects, the silence between sounds or the stillness between movements but is more than a "lack" of something. The emptiness in this is tangible. It is potential sound, potential presence, potential action.

Like a water droplet hanging off a faucet; you know it is going to drop but you don't know when.

This is what scientific research is. The potential. But it is not like a blank canvas in which to project your inspiration onto nor is it the feeling we feel starting new projects. It is closer to the project itself. Not like the canvas bu the time between brush strokes.

When the water droplet falls, there is relief; when a discovery is uncovered, there is progress; but then another droplet forms; a new goal presents itself; and you watch. This tension is ma.

Aesthetically this is the appreciation of the simplicity of the wall, but not the minimalism of a smooth, flat, grey wall, but the space that lies around the wall. It is asymmetry, extreme plainness, and simplicity which often results in what appears as unbalanced or random design but is in fact purposeful in its intent.

Everything is a manipulation of ma, playing with the balance of presence and absence, movement and stillness, sound and silence. Ma, is not what something could become, but the anticipation for what it is becoming now.

Mono No Aware (moh-noh noh Ah-wah-reh):

Literal translation: "Sensitivity to ephemera"

It is the awareness of impermanence. It is sensitivity or sadness, to connote a pathos engendered by a sense of the fleeting nature of life. This gentle sadness is accompanied by a sense of the transitory nature of beauty. Accepting this impermanence can lead to a sense of insubstantial joy, and a recognition that beauty and intransience are two parts of a whole. Like a vacation you love but know will end.

This was paramount in the design of the laboratory. By the very nature of scientific research; these rooms will change, the floor plan will mutate, the technology will evolve. As these things transmogrify, the spaces in this building will be torn down and rebuilt over and over again. This is especially true for this laboratory as the research being conducted within is unprecedented. Thus a modular design approach is the only plausible solution.

Wabi-Sabi (Wah-be Sah-be):

To elicit a sense of quiet melancholy and longing.

It is finding beauty in imperfection, accepting the natural cycle of growth and decay. The lived in or worn in. The fluidity between impermanence and imperfection.

To understand this, you must first understand 3 facts, truths - laws: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.


Wabi-Sabi is itself made up of two separate ideas: Wabi and Sabi.

Wabi is associated with the expression of a mood of spiritual solitude, a regal richness. Akin to what a hermit living in remote nature might feel.

Sabi is associated with withering, rusting or tarnishing - the natural progression of things. Appreciation of the lived in and used.

Although designing something to purposefully look worn and used would defeat the purpose, I kept this concept in mind when designing this building, keeping in mind that the building will age and change with the research. This is the appreciation and celebration of impermanence, of change.

Room Descriptions

For a full description of what each lab is responsible for, the types of experiments that take place and type of equipment required for each space, and all spatial requirements, see the project information booklet above.

Mental Health:

Scientists spend on average 8-12 hours per day in a laboratory environment. In an outdated lab design, that means spending most of that time alone in an office doing research with very little natural light. This can be quite taxing on the mental health of an individual. Contemporary trends in laboratory design promote collaboration between scientists, more exposure to natural light, more room to move, and warm materials to illicit a sense of comfort while working. This kind of consideration is also important for improving productivity; the more collaborative the scientists are, the faster new problems can be solved. Many fortune 500 companies, such as Google and Apple, use these strategies to maximize creativity and efficiency.

Eco-toxicology/ Chemical Dynamics Wet Lab:

The tasks involved in these two labs were almost identical for the purposes of this type of research, thus, to promote a more collaborative working environment the two labs were merged into one large laboratory. Scientists will have the ability to walk around the lab, speak with colleagues and perform research and experiments with plenty of room and support. Contemporary research labs are moving towards creating more collaborative spaces in order to share more information among colleagues. However, due to the possible hazardous material being experimented on, researchers are required to pass through a dressing room - which serves as a barrier between the lab and the rest of the building for the passing of any harmful material.

Robotics Wet Lab:

The Robotics wet lab requires equipment that must be stored separately from the any equipment that may be used by the Eco-toxicology/ Chemical Dynamics wet lab due to cross contamination and specialty equipment. A separate storage room was required for the robotics lab.

Dry Labs:

The function of a dry lab is research and simulation across all types of research. Since the work is done solely on a computer, one large computer lab is the most effective way of promoting and uniting all three fields of research is to combine all three dry labs. This will allow scientists to be exposed to the other fields far easier as well as promote a healthier working environment.

Interstitial Space:

interstital space connections, Zachery Teall, Oil Lab Design, Zach Teall

Interstitial space above the laboratories is paramount in ensuring the flexibility of the lab space to change and update. Interstitial space allows the scientists to move around equipment that require certain connections to suit an optimal work flow, as well as update equipment as research evolves. Interstitial space ensures the sustainability of the laboratory space. Having this setup also allows for maintenance to be performed on the connections without the workers needing to enter the laboratory, potentially disrupting the scientists or contaminating any ongoing experiments. The main Element of the interstitial space is the ceiling drop-down connections and blanks for future gases.

Drop down connections

Flume Lab:

The flume lab is a large open bay laboratory containing different types of man-made flumes for the purposes of experimentation and simulation with water flow. The laboratory can be used to simulate have different chemical compounds behave in different water based environments, the role of bedrock channels in long-term landscape evolution and erosional mechanisms.

Lunch Room:

The lunch room for the scientists and the coast guard were combined into one large lunch room to allow for the social interaction of people in different fields of work. Since the scientists are researching more effective way of responding and cleaning oil spills, it is important that they interact with those who are using their solutions. This collaboration will give the scientists an insider perspective on the field work and may lead to more effective solutions. A main decorative element of the lunch room is the mechanical room. Rather than hide away the pipes and electrical wires, they are displayed, organized and maintained, behind tall glass panels for all to see.

Electron Microscope:

Oil Lab Table Connections, Zachery Teall, Oil Lab Design, Zach Teall, Teall
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The electron microscope allows scientists to view materials and chemicals at an atomic level.


There are 2 micro-kitchens in the building to provide scientists a quieter place to eat and socialize. It is closer to the labs than the main dinning hall which encourages scientists to leave the lab more often for a snack which improves the likely hood of social interaction taking place.

Operation Launch:

The operation launch is located in the direct middle of the coast guard side to ensure easy and fast access in case of an emergency. No matter where the coast guards are in the building, there is a quick route directly into the launch area.


The coast guard section has an indoor training area to run drills when the weather becomes too cold as well as a separate indoor work-out room.

Green Strategies

Site map Sault Ste Marie


1. KBI Flexi-crete:

A porous recycled paver material to be used as a substitute to other paving materials. Composed of recycled tires, crushed stone, and a urethane binding agent manufactured by KBI. It is an extremely flexible and durable material, lasting an average of 20-30 years without replacement. One of the most important things to consider when selecting a paving material for a snowy climate is determining whether the city uses salt or sand. It may seem minimal but it has a massive impact on the integrity of the pavement. Flexi-crete has a high porosity rate which gives it a horizontal flow rate of 96.4 inches per hour and a vertical drainage rate of 341 inches per hour making it safe for salting. It is also extremely resistant to freeze-thaw damage, showing no cracks or damage after 300 cycles of ASTM C 666/C/666M testing. It reduces dissolved nitrates and phosphates by 88%. It’s high flexibility allows it to withstand up to 250 psi without permanent deformation or damage.

Facts and Figures:

  • ADA compliant

  • 23% porosity

  • Allows up to ~11,000 litres of water to drain per hour

  • Safe for plowing

  • Replenishes groundwater resources

  • Reduces city water run-off by 79%

2. Sub-Drain Systems:

The parking lot features a number of different sub-drain systems that allow scientists to monitor the local environment such as: rain gardens, bio-retention areas, and infiltration trenches. These areas also act as filters for the run-off water being drained from the city into the parking lot by the slope of the land. These sub-drain systems can help to remove pollutants, replenish groundwater resources and reduce the risk of flooding and stream channel erosion by providing opportunities to infiltrate storm water and snow melt runoff. This also allows scientists to measure local water quality, flow rates, volumes and water temperature. Rain, city runoff, and snow melt water can all be filtered by; passing through the gravel in the infiltration trenches while on its way to; the rain gardens where it will be filtered and cleansed a second time by the soils and plants; before finally being released back into the water table.


3. Passive Solar Heating:

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Although the site may not receive enough average solar radiation per month to solely rely on passive solar heating techniques, it does receive enough to integrate some techniques into the design. The curved glass wall, located on the south side of the coast guard section (3), captures the maximum amount of sunlight in both the winter and summer which will help keep heating and cooling costs down.

4. Natural Wave Break:

The small strip of land offers the benefit of a natural wave break for the river. Sault Ste Marie receives a large amount of marine traffic, thus having a wave break offers the building and the dock protection for potentially damaging waves.

5. Hempcrete:

hempcrete wall crossection

Hempcrete is an eco-friendly material composed of a combination of renewable hemp hurds and a natural lime hydraulic binder. It is a firm cement like material whose main application for this facility lies in its self-insulation properties. Hempcrete acts as a thermal mass as well as an insulating material. This unique combination of properties allows it to regulate the temperature and humidity of a building by slowly releasing built up heat as its surroundings cool, resulting in massive energy savings. This material has the ability to absorb carbon from the air, as much as 130kg of CO2 per meter cubed. The carbon trapped in the hemp offsets both the carbon emitted from hemp production and the residual carbon from the lime production which then releases only the oxygen, making hempcrete one of the only carbon-negative materials in the world. This unique property of the material allows it to have the added benefit of being used for natural ventilation. Hempcrete has a unique pore structure that gives the material an excellent ability to store and release moisture. Hemp-lime is capable of rapid liquid transfer, high moisture retention and high water vapor permeability, all of which act to avoid condensation, and manage the internal environment to retain comfortable conditions. For this building, hempcrete will be used as insulation throughout the whole structure.

Facts and Figures:

  • Density:  275kg/m3  (15% of concrete)

  • Compressive strength: 1 mpa

  • Thermal conductivity: 0.06-0.07 W/m k

  • U-value:  0.17 W/m2 k

  • Heat capacity:  1500-1700 J/kg

  • Acoustic absorption 0.69 NRC

  • Fire rating:  1 hr BS EN 1365-1:1999

  • Air tightness:   2m3/m2 per hr at 50pa

  • Euroclass E fire rating

  • Cost per cubic metre:   roughly $506 USD, $661 CND, €451 Euro

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