"As a building type, the laboratory demands our attention. What the cathedral was to the 14th century, the train station was to the 19th century, and the office building was to the 20th century, the laboratory is to the 21st century. That is, it is the laboratory that embodies, in both program and technology, the spirit and culture of our age and attracts some of the greatest intellectual and economic resources of our society." Don Prowler, FAIA, 1950-2002

The competition sponsors are combining efforts to make the public more aware of the important role that energy-efficient and environmentally-sustainable laboratories serve in the educational, economic, and social success of our communities and nations. This milestone competition will enable students to advance building innovations without the limitations of conventional industry practices - and use their unfettered creativity to shape the future of sustainable laboratory design, engineering, and operation.

Laboratories, as a building type, must provide spaces that enable scientists to conduct experiments with extensive rigor and controls, thereby ensuring that the results of experiments are authentic, replicable, and long lasting. The complementary needs for rigor, control, and safety have driven the evolution of the earliest laboratories into todays complex and sophisticated structures.

All laboratories - from instructional to research and testing facilities - should provide an environment that functions, attracts, engages, and motivates scientists to their highest level of creativity and intellect. This competition encourages participants to break through traditional thinking to creating buildings that do much more.

Given the impact of the built environment on the ecological health of our planet, sustainable design is one of the most critical issues challenging building designers. For laboratories, this is especially true, given that lab facilities are among the largest energy users among buildings. Architects and engineers, therefore, must embrace the ethic of sustainable design and engineering to create buildings not only of beauty and integrity, but also of ecological soundness and performance.

Based on this vision, the 2011-12 International Sustainable Laboratory Student Design Competition will promote in participating students an awareness of the challenges of creating laboratories sustainable in design, engineered systems, and operations.

Research has been an important activity within the U.S. Virgin Islands for more than a quarter century.

St. Croix, the southernmost of these islands, provides a rich environment for tropical marine research, especially on coral reef ecosystems. Marine research activities began on St. Croix in the late 1960s, providing some of the oldest available data on coral reefs. Some of the worlds leading marine researchers gathered data at two former marine laboratories on St. Croix: the West Indies Laboratory (WIL) on the east end of St. Croix, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Undersea Research Program habitats, the Hydrolab, then the Aquarius, which operated at Salt River Bay until Hurricane Hugo damaged both the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and West Indies Laboratory facilities in 1989. The scientific records generated by investigators at these two facilities are rare for their duration, quality, and documentation of coral reef conditions.

Under a cooperative agreement with the National Park Service, West Indies Laboratory produced the first marine research and assessments at Buck Island Reef National Monument (BUIS), established off St. Croix in 1961. West Indies Laboratory researchers mapped, inventoried, and investigated the ecology, function, status, and trends of Buck Island marine resources, including its coral geology, reef fisheries, marine invertebrates, sea turtles, oceanography, and coral reef habitats. Over time, Buck Island became one of the best documented and studied marine ecosystems in the Caribbean and served as a premiere field school for hundreds of West Indies Laboratory students.

The documentation of the long-term degradation of St. Croix's marine resources was used in 2001 to support the expansion and designation of Buck Island Reef as a marine protected area. In addition, these data have guided resource managers in the recovery of acroporid corals, which are designated as a critical habitat in the U.S. Virgin Islands. These examples show how the National Park Service units on St. Croix have benefited from marine research capacity, and the need for this capacity will only grow as resource management issues become more complex.

In the mid 1990s, scientists and researchers who had worked on St. Croix began to work with the National Park Service and the Office of Insular Affairs to restore St. Croix's marine research capacity. 

In 1999, the Department of the Interior entered into a memorandum of understanding with the newly-formed Joint Institute of Caribbean Marine Studies to aid in the understanding of the marine environment, including coral reef ecosystems, promote marine education and public awareness, and assist in the development of appropriate public policy within the Caribbean. 

Through this agreement, the partners sought to:

  • Foster collaborative research programs to understand and sustain management of the coral reef ecosystems of the Caribbean.
  • Provide support for marine education programs for school children and adults in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
  • Foster cooperation with other government, institutional, and private organizations to better understand marine issues in the Caribbean.
  • Enrich the learning experiences and opportunities for the University of the Virgin Islands and other university students.

Initial efforts focused on acquiring the West Indies Laboratory site, but the partners and the property owner could not reach agreement. In 2001, the National Park Service acquired property almost 100 acres on the east side of Salt River Bay. Given the combination of global and local threats to coral reefs and its resource management responsibilities, NPS approached the Office of Insular Affairs and the Joint Institutes for Caribbean Marine Studies about building the Marine Research and Education Center at Salt River Bay.

The Marine Research and Education Center project includes research laboratories, classrooms, a lecture hall, teaching aquaria, boats and diving equipment, and housing for students, staff, and visiting researchers. The facility will serve undergraduate and graduate students through a variety of marine education and research programs provided by the Joint Institutes for Caribbean Marine Studies.

In addition to providing research and education programs, the Marine Research and Education Center will enable the partners to strengthen undergraduate and graduate marine studies programs in the U.S. Virgin Islands by providing research and internship experiences not available on St. Croix.

By coordinating with the competition sponsors, the Joint Institute for Caribbean Marine Studies is seeking to instill among tomorrow’s planners, architects, and engineers a deep and shared appreciation for scientific research while promoting sustainability as integral to successful scientific endeavors.

The Marine Research and Education Center will be located on a 96-acre site on the north central coast of St. Croix. The Hemer's Peninsula site east of Salt River Bay offers direct access to ridge-to-reef and reef-to-abyss ecological zones. The site has an extensive cultural history, including the remains of two pre-historic villages of the indigenous Tainos and a ball court constructed more than 2,000 years ago.

The Tainos were pre-Columbia inhabitants of the island. On November 14, 1493, Christopher Columbus's party came ashore at Salt River Bay. It is the only site within U.S. territory visited by Columbus's party during his voyages.

Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve is one of a few co-managed National Park Service units; National Park Service shares the management responsibilities with the Government of the Virgin Islands. Within the park boundaries are more than 600 acres of mangrove estuarine habitat, coral reefs, and a submarine canyon.

Several miles east of the site, the St. Croix East End Marine Park was established in 2003 as the U.S. Virgin Islands' first territorial marine park. It encompasses 60 square miles, including five square miles of no-take areas off the northern and eastern coasts of St. Croix. Combined with the submerged lands within Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Buck Island Reef National Monument, these marine park areas protect one of the largest coral reef ecosystems in the Caribbean.

The Marine Research and Education Center will be within Salt River Bay's boundaries, so minimizing the impact of the facility on the park is an important project goal. Because a hotel and marina project was partially constructed during the 1970s (prior to Salt River Bay's designation as a national park), Hemer's Peninsula is considered a grey field - a site previously disturbed but not so affected that it is classified as a brown field.

Competition designs must consider the Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve legislative mandate to study and preserve the park's historical and natural resources, as well as to advance the project's sustainability goals of net zero annual electricity use and net zero water use (so that the project collects at least as much of each of these resources as is used). Additional background information regarding the project partners' goals will be posted on the competition website for reference during the competition.


  • Alison Farmer, Andelman and Lelek Engineering, Inc.
  • Ken Kornberg, Kornberg Associates Architects
  • Paul Mathew, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
  • Steve Meder, University of Hawaii @ Manoa
  • Arleen O'Donnell, Eastern Research Group