Dignitaries digging into a section of tent-sheltered dirt on Monday initiated construction of the Janelia Farm Research Campus of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI).
“It is a thrill for me to be able to join this distinguished gathering as we break ground for this beautiful center which furthers the county’s goals and objectives of our Economic Development program and the county’s Comprehensive Plan,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman Scott York (At large) at the groundbreaking ceremony, which was held under tent at Janelia Technology Park near the Potomac River in Ashburn. York, along with Gov. Mark Warner (D) and representatives from Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), spoke at the two-hour ceremony.
“With the institute as a hub for innovation and investments elsewhere in Virginia, I believe the Commonwealth is well on its way to becoming a biotechnology powerhouse,” Warner said. The project is the largest biotechnology investment in Virginia, he said, adding that the state intends to take its record in information technology into the life sciences and biotechnology.
IN LATE 2002, HHMI began constructing a biomedical research complex on a 281-acre parcel the organization purchased in Ashburn two years earlier. HHMI expects to spend $500 million to build a 760,000-square-foot complex and establish various scientific programs there once it is completed in early 2006.
“The work we’ll do here will be unusual with respect to its interdisciplinary nature,” said Thomas Cech, president of HHMI, a medical research organization that fosters biomedical research and science education.
The Janelia Farm Research Campus will join the fields of biology and medicine with computer science, chemistry, physics and engineering to create research tools for biomedical science. Hundreds of scientists from a variety of disciplines will work in multidisciplinary teams.
The complex will include laboratories for a research staff of 200 to 300 scientists, additional laboratories for visiting researchers and facilities for scientific support and administration, along with a conference center and visitor housing. There will be space for an established ongoing research program, along with project-oriented “surge” space for visiting scientists to research emerging areas in science and to use new technologies to solve scientific problems. The complex will promote and support biomedical research that is technology driven and conducted collaboratively.
“Collaboration is the thing that has inspired this particular project,” said Rafael Vinoly, principal of Rafael Vinoly Architects, P.C., the New York City firm that designed the project.
The architectural design allows for collaboration among scientists and provides flexible laboratory space. The architecture embodies freedom and creativity while still remaining functional, said Gerald Rubin, vice-president and director of planning for the Janelia Farm Research Campus.
The campus is designed as a landscape facility intended to blend into the sloping hillside and follow the curves of the terrain, while keeping much of the construction underground. The campus's main building will be a low-rise, terraced structure that conforms to the surrounding topography. The roofs of most of the buildings will be covered with a roofscape of grass and other green plants.
“We’re fortunate to find such a beautiful site to construct this campus,” said Hanna Gray, chairman of the HHMI Board of Trustees. “We are very grateful to be embarking on this venture with you.”
THE SITE for Janelia Farm Research Campus includes a 1930s manor house, previously owned by Vinton and Robert Pickens and now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. HHMI plans to restore the house for a living and entertaining space.
The Pickens named their farm Janelia Farm by combining the names of their daughters Jane and Cornelia, a name that HHMI maintained for the research campus. The name fits the evolving of the campus’s research needs by remaining timeless without saying anything about science, Cech said. “We want to establish a culture that continually renews as new research arises,” he said.
“This facility will help Loudoun’s economy continue to grow and prosper and provide opportunities for new businesses to start up or relocate to Loudoun County,” York said. “Today is a marvelous day for Loudoun.”
Randy Collins, director of the Loudoun Chamber of Commerce, agreed in a separate interview that HHMI’s choosing to locate in Loudoun makes for “a great day.” “It’s probably the biggest thing to happen in Loudoun County since the opening of Dulles Airport. In the last 40 year, it’s one of the biggest projects,” he said. “It’s certainly going to create jobs, but more importantly, it’s going to help create Loudoun as an anchor in the biotechnology world. It’s going to put an X on the map and underline Loudoun. It’s great prestige.”