Revolutionizing Columbia’s Labs: SGVA’s Projects

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Columbia University, renowned for its dedication to cutting-edge research, has embarked on a transformative journey with SGVA’s multi-year project. SGVA proudly presents a series of groundbreaking lab renovations that have modernized and repurposed existing facilities across the university. These state-of-the-art laboratories in the biological sciences, chemistry, and physics departments have been meticulously designed to cater to the expanding needs of researchers, combining functionality, efficiency, and historic charm. In this article, we’ll explore three standout projects that exemplify SGVA’s innovative approach and Columbia’s commitment to scientific advancement.

1. Chemistry Lab, Havemeyer Hall: Where Tradition Meets Innovation

Havemeyer Hall, a National Historic Landmark, stands as an iconic symbol of Columbia’s history and academic prowess. SGVA was tasked with fully renovating a 2,800 sq. ft. lab on its fourth floor, blending the building’s historic allure with modern research requirements.

The design process involved leveraging the abundant ceiling height and natural light while capturing additional space outside the original lab to accommodate the research team’s needs. The result is a lab boasting cutting-edge features, including a Biosafety level 2 tissue culture room, cold rooms, and dedicated bench space for advanced equipment like centrifuges and microscopes. To ensure utmost comfort and functionality, the lab’s lighting, ductwork, and utilities were meticulously integrated with the lab benches, supporting researchers and graduate students during their intensive study sessions.

SGVA’s attention to detail extended to the aesthetics, where rounded benches and strategically placed writing tables by the windows enhance comfort and utility. The lab’s soothing blue and white color palette exudes a calming atmosphere, reflecting Columbia’s commitment to research excellence and creating a captivating environment for prospective researchers.

2. Biochemistry Lab, Fairchild Center: A Molecular Marvel

The Fairchild Center witnessed a remarkable metamorphosis under SGVA’s design expertise, offering a new facility dedicated to molecular biology, microscopy, and chemistry research. The project centered around the specific requirements of a new professor in the Department of Biology, resulting in a complete renovation of the lab and support spaces.

With upgraded finishes and systems, including enhanced lighting and surface areas, the lab’s modernity complements the building’s high modernist appeal. New HVAC infrastructure, two fume hoods, and a customizable laser facility further empower researchers to conduct cutting-edge experiments. The lab’s adaptability shines through with its ability to subdivide the laser facility into four separate zones, each capable of independent operation.

SGVA’s thoughtful design breathed new life into previously underutilized space, empowering researchers to unlock new realms of scientific discovery within the heart of Columbia’s main campus.

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3. Physics Lab, Pupin Hall: Unveiling the Subatomic Secrets

Pupin Hall, a designated historic landmark due to its role in the Manhattan Project, continues to be a bastion of scientific exploration for Columbia’s Physics, Astrophysics, and Astronomy departments. In 2020, SGVA embarked on a major expansion of the existing research facility, catering to a scientist exploring condensed matter and atomic, molecular, and optical physics.

To accommodate the latest research needs, SGVA extended the lab’s footprint and introduced innovative features, including a new laser system and three experimental stations featuring a scanning tunneling microscope (STM). The challenges were met head-on through an extensive feasibility study, which identified underused support spaces that could be combined to create a high-performing lab.

Each of the three STM chambers was meticulously designed to ensure optimal performance, with subsurface imaging revealing the bedrock below the building. A unique concrete wall design, free of any steel reinforcing, eliminated interference with the scanning technology, creating environmentally-isolated and sound-proofed chambers.

In line with the researcher’s enthusiasm, SGVA brought life to the cellar-level space with a vibrant color scheme of teal, yellow, white, and red. The result is an inspiring and functional environment that fosters creativity and innovation, embodying the spirit of scientific exploration that has defined Pupin Hall for decades.


SGVA’s collaboration with Columbia University has transformed historical landmarks into hubs of cutting-edge research. The chemistry, biochemistry, and physics labs represent the epitome of modernity, efficiency, and innovation, empowering researchers to push the boundaries of scientific understanding. These projects stand as a testament to Columbia’s commitment to advancing knowledge and SGVA’s dedication to crafting spaces that inspire future generations of scientists. With these state-of-the-art facilities, Columbia University continues its legacy as a frontrunner in scientific discovery and academic excellence.

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Technical sheet

Official Project Name: Research Labs at Columbia University
Location: Columbia University, Morningside (main) campus
Client: Columbia University Facilities and Operations
Architects/designers: Shakespeare, Gordon, Vlado: Architects PLLC
Design team: Mark Gordon, Ashima Chitre, Sean Kennedy

Engineers: Lilker Associates Consulting Engineers, Polise Consulting Engineers, Silman Structural Engineers
Acoustic Consultant: LSTN
Project sector: Higher Education
Square footage: Chemistry Lab: 3,759 sf, Biochemistry Lab: 880 sf, Physics Lab: 1,200 sf
Project completion date: 2023
Photographer: Alexander Severin

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