HDR: University of Maryland, Physical Sciences Complex

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

By HDR August 11, 2016

Engineering firm: HDR

2016 MEP Giants rank: 7

Project: University of Maryland, Physical Sciences Complex

Location: College Park, Md.

Building type: Educational facility; office building; research facility/laboratory

Project type: New construction

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

Project timeline: June 2008 to May 2014

MEP/FP budget: $10.4 million


As students and faculty make their way through campus to the new Physical Sciences Complex, they follow the natural path of circulation unobstructed. The building is lifted to create generous entrances into an unexpected, open-to-the-skies courtyard. Looking up through the "oculus to the skies," students and faculty see offices for theorists and astronomers while the physics department is appropriately rooted in the earth.

This open ellipse through the center of the building presented a challenge to the design team, as the penthouse for the mechanical equipment along with building shafts want to naturally be centrally located in the building and on the roof.

The new complex resides on a complicated site and includes several laboratories with some more exacting physics labs that are home to nanoscale research, which has stringent vibration and temperature requirements.


  1. Locating the building’s high-efficiency HVAC systems adjacent to the spaces they serve maximizes energy and building efficiencies through shorter distribution runs. The solution also avoided the typical penthouse-freeing the space for a green roof. This design also maximizes open space uninterrupted by mechanical shafts to allow for the "oculus to the skies." Operable windows in office and meeting areas provide natural ventilation. Other sustainable design features include green roofs for efficient stormwater management and an accessible roof garden.
  2. Occupants of the building were not identified until after construction began, making flexibility essential. Laboratories were distributed through the building, with the more exacting physics labs belowgrade and the less structurally intense astronomy labs and offices contained in the 3-story tower. Labs designed for research at the nanoscale are located belowgrade; using the earth itself to minimize vibration and isolate the labs from electromagnetic and radiofrequency interference. By maximizing and leveraging the natural stabilization of the earth, the strict temperature, air quality, and vibration requirements were realized using high-efficiency dedicated air handling equipment with HEPA filtration. A heat-recovery system was also integrated into the HVAC system to reclaim waste heat from the laboratory exhaust.