CA Labs Science Center / Bringing Science into Dialogue with Other Disciplines

concordacademy-rooftop

CA Labs was designed to maximize both flexibility and transparency. The details show the thought and care that went into creating this new space for creativity.

How can a building facilitate the circulation of ideas? Glass walls and ample natural light. Collaboration zones in wide hallways. Reconfigurable classrooms with retractable, sound-curbing partitions. A rooftop experimental station. And a museum-worthy elevator and mobile carts that allow teachers to move equipment easily from the third-floor fabrication lab down for outdoor testing in Makers Alley.

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During his CATalk at the opening celebration for CA Labs, science teacher Max Hall expressed frustration at the artificial distinction often made between art and science. In contrast, he said, “We’re doing a nice job of not being too compartmentalized, of letting ideas move.”

While the new CA Labs building is primarily home to the science faculty—classrooms are equipped with sinks, ventilation hoods, and portable lab benches with chemical-resistant countertops, along with fixed and mobile whiteboards — English, math, and language classes are also being taught in the building, to everyone’s benefit. The largest classroom on the third floor will house the Theater Program’s Directors Workshop in the spring, and students can expect more cross-disciplinary use in the future.

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CA Labs was designed to maximize both flexibility and transparency. The architects from Dewing Schmid Kearns understood the importance of discussion to the Concord Academy community and sought input from many of its members, including faculty now using the building. Teachers drew up wish lists, visited science buildings at other schools to gather ideas, and blocked out the arrangements of cabinets and equipment on the walls. The collaborative process resulted in classrooms with flexible amenities such as common access to prep spaces, three-sided glass display cases, and glassed-in consultation rooms.

The green roof, with its meteorological station, slate chalkboard, and temperature-regulating groundcover, offers an unobstructed view of the night sky and a fresh perspective on CA’s campus and beyond. In the new Main School Lobby that connects CA Labs to the Main School building, double glass doors create airlocks at all three entrances, bringing energy efficiency, light, and warmth to a space that was previously merely transitional. In CA Labs, each room has its own split-system air conditioning and heating unit. On a tour this summer, Director of Operations Don Kingman said his team had looked into possibilities for harnessing geothermal energy but decided the split systems would achieve the same efficiency for a fraction of the cost of drilling. They poured the savings back into quality materials.

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It’s the details that show the thought and planning that went into creating this new space for creativity on campus. In the first-floor hallway, an abstract-looking border along the gray slate floor tiles can be used to measure in both centimeters and inches. Poster-sized frames built into the hallways allow students to share their projects with one another. One stairwell wall is covered with a three-story map of Concord, Mass., in 1922, the year of the school’s founding, and the other depicts the DNA helix of a chameleon. If you look closely, you’ll notice that several “CAs” stand out in the sequence.