The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) is a renowned world leader in research on the ecology, behavior, and evolution of tropical organisms. Their new research station is located at a former sawmill, on a sensitive coastal site next to a mangrove swamp, on an island off the Caribbean coast of Panama.
The building's main functions - labs for resident and visiting scientists, teaching labs, a conference room, and support spaces - occupy a string of volumes on a raised platform shaded by an overhanging pitched roof. The main laboratory building was designed to minimize its environmental impact while providing an exemplary scientific facility.
The guiding principle of the design was that it be "net zero impact," collecting its own water, treating its own waste, and generating its own energy.
The form of the building itself affords great energy savings. Interior volumes are shaded by the large photovoltaic roof, which minimizes direct heat gains. The narrow plan, together with the space between the two roofs, allows cross ventilation to keep the building cool while providing daylight and views. The translucent lower roof, along with the partially transparent photovoltaic roof, admits an optimum 5% of daylight into the interior rooms for daylighting. The 38-kW photovoltaic upper roof produces approximately 75% of the building's energy needs, while doubling as the rainwater collector.
Raising the entire building on concrete piers helps to catch prevailing breezes for passive cooling, and also provides a measure of flood protection and minimizes the lab's impact on the site. Air conditioning is zoned so that individual rooms can be cooled separately.
Materials were chosen for environmental reasons, and, where possible, were left without additional finish. Sustainability harvested local hardwood was used for the upper structure and siding of the building.