Children’s Mercy Research Institute Combines Science and Architecture

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November 21, 2020

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After six years of visioning, three years of design and planning, and 32 months of construction, Kansas City has welcomed an iconic addition to its landscape.

Children’s Mercy Research Institute (CMRI), one of only 31 exclusively pediatrics-focused research facilities in the U.S. combines science and architecture.

The nearly 400,000-square-foot, 9-story structure stands as a testament to the importance of translational medicine – research aimed at determining the relevance of pediatric diseases through novel discoveries, bringing that research expeditiously from lab to patient and back again.

“We are all working towards a common goal of discovering the cures, treatments, and devices that will help the kids who are in our care,” said CMRI Senior Director of Research Development Kieran Pemberton, Ph.D. “We wanted to move away from the old-style, closed-off research laboratory concept. The new design is focused on collaboration,” he added. “Ideas will be shared, and discussions will take place between groups throughout the labs and in all of the collaboration spaces.”

Clinicians, scientists, nurses, psychologists, research assistants, study coordinators, sociologists, mathematicians, pharmacogenomists, genomic informaticians, and others will inhabit the new pediatric research institute, located on Hospital Hill at 2401 Gillham Road.

The contemporary, all-glass façade of CMRI readily identifies the new research institute from traditional brick-and-mortar design of the existing hospital and surrounding medical centers. BSA LifeStructures Director of Architecture Jacqueline Foy, LEED, AP, said the very design of the building – interior and exterior – communicates the forward-thinking nature of the collaborative research that will take place within.

“The curvature of the building’s exterior contributes to the illusion of a DNA helix spire,” Foy said. “The full-height monumental staircase connects the entry level to the top of the building and every floor in between. The building’s north and south façade designs each show a literal DNA pattern, a rare mutation.”

The DNA pattern designs represent actual DNA sequences from four CMRI pediatric patients, according to Pemberton. “The sequences depicted in the facades represent the mutation that causes the condition for which these young patients are being treated at Children’s Mercy,” he said, adding that the artwork inside the building is also science-based, generated by CMRI faculty member John Perry, Ph.D.’s scientific images of stem cells in a tissue culture flask. “The genomic studies we will undertake within this new facility are bringing environmental elements into the discussion of how a disease manifests itself. In this way, we are treating the whole child, taking into account mental and social factors, rather than just the symptoms of a pediatric disease.”

Each floor of the new building spans nearly 42,000 square feet and is intentionally designed with completely transparent labs and office spaces that can be viewed from across the floor plate. Foy said floors include one break room, one copier room, one lounge, one conference room and one set of restrooms – rather than multiple per floor – to promote collaboration. “It’s the driving force in this research facility,” she said. The entry floor includes an auditorium capable of accommodating nearly 500 people. One floor above is the garden level that is entirely open concept, ready to host medical functions and also serves as a discovery portal to engage community groups and populations with input about the type of pediatric research they would like to see transpire at CMRI. Floors 1-5 of the new facility align and connect to existing floors of Mercy Children’s Hospital to the south. Floor 1 also connects to the existing Children’s Mercy medical office building, crossing paths between researchers and providers to continue the collaboration.

Pemberton and Foy said the aim of Children’s Mercy Research Institute is to accelerate the time and lower the corresponding cost that currently exists in transitioning from pediatric research to treatment. According to the National Institutes of Health, it currently takes $1 billion and 10 years to move from bench to bedside.

“Accelerating the translation of clinical research into patient care is our goal,” said Pemberton.