Harley Ellis Devereaux: Integrative Biosciences Center

Automation, controls; electrical, power; HVAC, mechanical; lighting; energy, sustainability; plumbing, piping.

By Harley Ellis Devereaux August 11, 2016

Engineering firm: Harley Ellis Devereaux

2016 MEP Giants rank: 72

Project: Integrative Biosciences Center (IBio)

Location: Detroit

Building type: Research facility/laboratory

Project type: 127,000-sq-ft renovation of an existing building and new 78,000-sq-ft addition

Engineering services: Automation, controls; electrical, power; HVAC, mechanical; lighting; energy, sustainability; plumbing, piping

Project timeline: November 2012 to September 2015

MEP/FP budget: $26.9 million


The engineering challenges faced on the Integrative Biosciences Center (IBio) project at Wayne State University (WSU) centered on a hyper-aggressive schematic design schedule, the renovation of a century-old building (and associated unforeseen conditions), and brutal winter conditions during construction.

This state-of-the-art research facility is the product of a committed partnership and intense collaboration among project team members. WSU engaged Harley Ellis Devereaux as its design partner and a joint venture between Barton Malow Co. and L.S. Brinker Co. (Barton Malow/Brinker) as its construction manager. The IBio design process began with a challenge—to program and create a schematic design for a new, multidisciplinary biomedical research facility and repurpose the historic dealership in some form. The design was to be submitted to the State of Michigan to gain their approval and the release of funding. In addition, the program needed to be completed within an aggressive 5-week schedule—a task that would more typically take 5 months to complete. The former Dalgleish Cadillac Dealership and Body Shop (circa 1927) was not well-suited for a contemporary biomedical research facility. The team needed to determine how to use the existing building and the nature of the necessary addition in a timely manner.

The renovation of a century-old building presented a second challenge for the project. Demolition began in November 2012, and it was clear early on that this would be a challenging endeavor. The team discovered that portions of the existing building were not constructed properly, which could have an impact on the schedule, cost, sequence, and safety of the project.

Construction of IBio occurred over two of Michigan’s most brutal recent winters: 2013 and 2014. The combination of renovating an almost 100-year-old building, with a multitude of unforeseen conditions, along with constructing the new addition during two ruthless winters was a huge accomplishment in and of itself.


  1. WSU’s IBio serves as a showcase for the university and a beacon of hope for its host city, Detroit. IBio is a place where experts in environmental science, bio- and systems engineering, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, asthma, and biobehavioral health will work side by side.
  2. To deliver the IBio program on time, a series of intensive workshops with WSU stakeholders, benchmarking activities to capture global research best practices, and colocating the team to focus thinking and minimize disruption allowed the team to complete the program within the aggressive 5-week schedule. During the design process, critical evaluation of the location of the wet lab occurred, which resulted in the wet lab being placed in the existing building. As a result, once funding was approved, the team could take a step back and focus on successfully completing the project.
  3. To address the issues faced with the renovation of an existing building (circa 1927), the project team had to mobilize quickly. Deficient areas were identified and tested to determine the extent of remediation that would be required. Potential solutions were developed and validated against project parameters to make every effort to maintain the budget and schedule. Barton Malow/Brinker adjusted their construction sequence to accommodate the unanticipated work that would be required. Their original work plan had construction beginning on the renovation to the west and continuing on into the new addition to the east. This plan was altered to begin with work on the new addition while the structural issues in the existing building were resolved. This level of critical thinking, onsite capability, and resiliency enabled the project to stay on schedule despite the additional work. Ultimately, additional structure was added to support weak beams, extra beams were installed for spans longer than could be reliably supported, and the existing frame was stiffened by inserting concrete shear walls in four locations within what would become the wet lab core area.
  4. Despite the harsh winter during construction, the Barton Malow/Brinker team maintained construction operations (and kept the project on schedule) throughout. This involved properly sequencing activity around open building areas and seasonal climate shifts. A temporary enclosure was erected to isolate the atrium from the balance of the building. This enabled the interior finish work to proceed while the atrium and south wall were being constructed. They also arranged to have the air handling equipment set in place early enough to be used for temporary heat distribution. The site, utility services, and landscape work was sequenced to occur over the two spring seasons to avoid the extreme weather.