AKA: University of Washington, Seattle (UW), Molecular Engineering and Sciences (MolES) Building, Seattle, WA; University of Washington, Seattle, (UW), Nano Engineering and Sciences Building (NanoES), Seattle, WA

Structure Type: built works - public buildings - schools - university buildings

Designers: Affiliated Engineers NW, Incorporated (firm); Hoffman Construction Company (firm); WSP Group, PLC (firm); Zimmer Gunsul Frasca (ZGF) Partnership (firm); Robert J. Frasca (architect); Brooks R. Gunsul (architect); Norman Cunningham Zimmer (architect)

Dates: constructed 2009-2011

5 stories, total floor area: 160,000 sq. ft.

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3946 West Stevens Way NE
University of Washington (UW) Campus, Seattle, WA 98105

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This high-technology research, office and classroom building, bullt in two phases, took the place of some temporary, wood-frame buildings and the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition's Women's Building that was moved to a new site a few hundred yards to the northwest, just west of Parrington Hall.

Building History

Plans announced in 2008 envisioned two Molecular Engineering buildings (Phase 1 and Phase 2) both buildings to be about 70,000 to 80,000 square feet. construction was to begin on Phase 1 in 12/2009. Phase 2 construction would start several years later. A Seattle Department of Planning and Development Environmental Impact Sign posted by 03/2009, indicated that Phase 1 would be a four-story building with 92,000 square feet; the addition would be five stories with 80,000 square feet. As built, the first phase became a five-story building approximately 90,000 square feet, with 160,000 square feet in total between the two.

The website of the architectural firm, ZGF.com, summarized the two projects: "The 90,000 SF, LEED Gold® Phase 1 building provides space to support a wide range of wet and dry laboratory uses, including fume hood-intensive chemistry, open plan offices for researchers, faculty offices, and common and support spaces. The design takes advantage of the topography of the site to provide ground and basement level instrumentation laboratories (the largest on the West Coast) with ultra-low vibration and electromagnetic interference requirements, allowing the research laboratories to be above-grade to take advantage of daylight and views. The building is the first laboratory building on campus with a naturally ventilated office component. It also features optimized laboratory ventilation, energy-efficient chilled beams, and two green roofs. The LEED Silver® Phase 2 building provides an additional 70,000 SF of research and collaboration space and includes a significant classroom component." (See ZGF.com, "University of Washington, MolES AND NanoES BUILDINGS Laboratories and Research," accessed 05/23/2022.)

According to an article in the Daily of the University of Washington: "Originally a four-story building with half of the surface area devoted to open ceilings--known as a cold shell to constructors and architects--the team was able to fit another floor within the budget." (See Ravi Venkataraman, Daily of the University of Washington.edu, "New Molecular Engineering Building Nears Completion," accessed 02/15/2012.) The $78.5-million building was to become home to the Molecular Engineering and Science Institute, "...a facility specially designed to promote collaborative molecular-scale research. The building will house a world-class Molecular Analysis Center where state-of-the-art instrumentation will be developed and utilized by the broad research community at UW as well as by the larger non-profit and tech communities in Seattle." The university referred to the institute as an "intellectual accelerator" and as a "...physical incubator where new interdisciplinary teams can come together in a shared space." (See "About the Institute," accessed 02/15/2012.)

Building Notes

The building achieved a LEED Gold rating. Affiliated Engineers, Incorporated, an engineering company with 11 offices in the US and Bahrain, worked on the Molecular Engineering and Sciences Building. AEI had an office located at 1601 Fifth Avenue, Suite 1400, Seattle, WA, 98101.

A transit tunnel running directly underneath the MolES and NanoES Buildings created a significant engineering problem for Sound Transit, the operator of the electric train artery. It noted on its web site: "Starting October 2 [2021], Link light rail riders will glide over another example of engineering breakthroughs from 70 to 140 feet below campus when the new 1 Line extension and new stations in the U District, Roosevelt and Northgate neighborhoods open. The underground tracks through this area include about 7,500 feet (3,800 feet in each tunnel) of highly-specialized rail infrastructure resting on what’s called a “floating slab.” The tunnels pass under campus research buildings that are extremely sensitive to physical and electromagnetic vibrations. We’re talking about electron microscopes and other extremely sensitive equipment. This equipment, and the billions of dollars in research conducted at UW, are very sensitive to vibrations and electromagnetic interference that can come from operating electric trains 20 hours a day. Sound Transit engineers had to make sure the trains did not disturb these buildings and the research conducted there. Shankar Rajaram, the Sound Transit Rail Vehicle Engineering Manager, led the team tasked with making sure the trains rumbling at up to 35 miles-per-hour beneath campus do not disturb the work happening above."

To deaden vibrations from the trains, Sound Transit engineers partnered with five engineering firms to safeguard delicate research being undertaken above the ground's surface: "The tracks sit on about 1,600 extra-dense concrete slabs reinforced with steel rebar that each weigh more than 11,000 pounds. The concrete used to make the slabs includes a mixture of the mineral hematite, which has its own energy-absorbing qualities. And each slab rests on custom-built rubber pads sourced for their durability and vibration-absorbing properties. We also used what’s called “ultra-straight rail” that is common for high-speed trains in Europe to help smooth out the ride. The floating slabs and rail have proven to absorb the vibrations and other potential interference at the source as trains pass over. Every train that passes through the area is recorded by 40 monitors at 300 feet intervals. Extensive testing in the area shows we’re meeting all the criteria for quiet operations." (See Bruce Gray, Sound Transit The Platform.org, "World-class engineering under ground keeps trains quiet on UW campus above," published 09/22/2021, accessed 05/23/2022.) The five engineering consultants included: Wilson Ihrig, WSP, McMillen Jacobs Associates, Stacy and Witbeck and Jacobs.


The $78.5-million building was finished in the late spring 2012. It will be fully devoted to research and will house the Molecular Engineering and Science Institute.

PCAD id: 11655