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Promega Corp.’s $190 million R&D center to be architecturally unique

July 15, 2018

Fitchburg biotech Promega Corp.’s big, new research and development center will be a building designed to last for “200 years,” one of the architects on the project says.

A groundbreaking ceremony will be held this week for the 270,000-square-foot, $190 million project to be built on East Cheryl Parkway, just east of the company’s Feynman Center. When it is completed in fall 2020, it will house about 135 employees.

The three-story building will be bigger than any of the other 14 buildings Promega already occupies, as the Wisconsin State Journal reported in June. Architects, now releasing some details of the structure, say it will have a number of unusual features.

“There is no building just like this,” said Jason Smith, design principal, with SmithGroupJJR, in Chicago. “This is a building that we’ve been asked to think of a 200-year design for.”

For one thing, there’s the shape — which is hard to describe. It is sort of a modernistic cloverleaf, with four quadrants intertwined by an atrium that runs through each quadrant and connects in a central location. The atrium hub is meant to encourage employees from different areas to cross paths, said Steve Wellenstein, senior architect at Uihlein/Wilson-Ramlow/Stein Architects, in Milwaukee.

Wellenstein also worked on Promega’s Feynman Center, a manufacturing building with rustic, wooden beams and a “living wall” of 7,000 plants, and the Discovery Building on the UW-Madison campus that’s designed to encourage scientists from different fields to meet up and share ideas.

For energy efficiency, Promega’s new R&D center will be built into the slope of the land and will have two sets of walls: an interior concrete wall and an exterior wall of brick and glass, separated by a three-foot air space. It will wrap around almost the entire perimeter of the building, “like a Thermos, in a way,” Wellenstein said.

The brick will absorb some heat and radiate it back inside the building at night, he said.

There will be radiant heating in the floor, and geothermal wells will supplement the building’s heating and cooling system —also adding to energy efficiency and comfort.

In addition to laboratories and offices, the building will have its own cafeteria and some “third spaces ... scattered throughout” that will allow a brief respite from work, Smith said.

“This whole project has really been about trying to aspire to values that Promega has said are really important to them ... that tend to be more about vision and character,” Wellenstein said.

He said designers have focused on: “Are we creating a space that’s going to foster innovation, that will be unexpected and whimsical?”

That, Wellenstein said, will help set up the building “to be really successful.”

Kraemer Brothers Construction, of Plain, is the general contractor.

Fitchburg city officials have said they think this is the largest building permit request the city has received.

Privately owned Promega, founded in 1978, has 1,500 employees, including nearly 950 in Dane County. With 3,500 products, the company had $386 million in revenue in 2017.

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