Last November, a team led by LEO A DALY completed a new medical examiner office building for Hennepin County in Minnesota that has been recognized as a one-of-its-kind facility in the U.S. The $53 million, 64,000-sf building, located in Minnetonka, Minn., is serving as both a regional center of excellence and a nationwide destination for professional education. It replaces an office that, in 2021, investigated a record 10,000 deaths, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
Dr. Andrew Baker, the county’s chief medical examiner, and his staff reportedly visited nearly a dozen medical examiner offices around the country in search of best practices. They found only three construction firms in the country that specialize in medical examiner offices and crime labs, according to the Star Tribune. (Iowa-based Knutson Construction was the general contractor on this project.)
Indeed, this was the first medical examiner’s facility that LEO A DALY had worked on. The services provided by the firm were architecture, interior design, structural, mechanical, electrical, and fire protection engineering. The project’s lab consultant was MWL Architects. Egan Mechanical was the mechanical subcontractor, and Parsons the electrical sub.
The new facility is set up for greater efficiency and ergonomics. For example, previously bodies that entered the morgue had to be transferred from a gurney to a table by staff, thus creating an injury risk. The patented tables in the new facility can be moved up or down to accommodate the staff’s height, strength, and dexterity. In addition, the new office has its own CT scanner, which allows for greater precision when presenting evidence for trials, and for reducing autopsy times.
Function and form
The new office “advances design for integration, well-being, and discovery,” states LEO A DALY. Its northern wing houses laboratory functions, including 12 autopsy stations, storage coolers, and freezers for more than 130 decedents, specialized examination and analysis areas, tissue recovery, investigations, and spaces for advanced observation and training. Finishes were selected for durability and ease of sanitation. Strict security and safety measures are balanced with studious attention to staff health and well-being.
The southern wing houses office space, training rooms, consultation spaces, and shared lounges. A unifying hub provides a place for relaxation, connection, and access to the exterior space. The facility is nestled into a woodland and provides opportunities to connect with nature and enjoy respite from this stressful work.
Well-being and mental health
Trauma-informed care provided the nexus of a design for a workplace focused on supporting the mental, emotional, and social health of the staff and doctors.
The building’s placement on the site captures views from staff offices, training and break areas into natural forests, prairies, and wetland areas. Daylight streams into the interior through large sidelights in the office wing. Skylights in the laboratory wing scatter diffuse, refracted light throughout the autopsy area. Angled skylights provide natural light to improve color clarity, aid diagnosis, and prevent visual fatigue. Overhead and task lighting are each manually adjustable and automated for energy efficiency.
Upon exiting the lab, examiners and staff have immediate access to the exterior thanks to the office wing’s branched form. Choice—a central element of trauma-informed design—is offered between spaces for social interaction and quiet, personal reflection. Natural materials and lighting strategies were used to reduce stress levels.
Indoor air quality improved
Hennepin County handled an estimated 1,500 autopsies in 2021.
Autopsies subject doctors and staff to an array of odors and physical strain. The design of the new facility responds with a strategic focus on indoor air quality, ergonomics, and injury prevention.
Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) modeling was used to create a breathing zone for doctors and staff that is continuously refreshed with clean air. Each autopsy station is zoned separately and includes personal controls over airflow volumes. Outside air is carefully directed downward and toward low sidewall exhaust grilles, virtually eliminating contaminated air from the room. To save energy, an override switch can be triggered when the space is unoccupied.
Eliminating air flow between the lab and office areas is achieved through precisely controlled air pressure. Clean rooms are positively pressurized relative to dirty rooms to contain odors, pathogens, and contaminants. The office wing of the building maintains positive pressure from all other sections of the building through a separate mechanical system.
Design for discovery
The new Medical Examiner office has achieved National Association of Medical Examiners accreditation, and has been toured by chief medical examiners from across the country. The building’s educational aspects enable discovery by serving as a feeder for medical examiner recruiting.
Unique training features, such as 180-degree visual table observation viewing platforms and 96-inch vertical monitors, provide in-depth educational opportunities for traveling fellows and doctoral students. According to the client, the facility “not only prepares the workforce of the future, but [also] places our region in a sought-after position for the development and training of a highly skilled scientific workforce, adding value to our economy.”
Mass Timber | May 1, 2023
SOM designs mass timber climate solutions center on Governors Island, anchored by Stony Brook University
Governors Island in New York Harbor will be home to a new climate-solutions center called The New York Climate Exchange. Designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), The Exchange will develop and deploy solutions to the global climate crisis while also acting as a regional hub for the green economy. New York’s Stony Brook University will serve as the center’s anchor institution.
Healthcare Facilities | Mar 13, 2023
Next-gen behavioral health facilities use design innovation as part of the treatment
An exponential increase in mental illness incidences triggers new behavioral health facilities whose design is part of the treatment.
Sustainability | Mar 2, 2023
The next steps for a sustainable, decarbonized future
For building owners and developers, the push to net zero energy and carbon neutrality is no longer an academic discussion.
University Buildings | Feb 9, 2023
3 ways building design can elevate bold thinking and entrepreneurial cultures
Mehrdad Yazdani of CannonDesign shares how the visionary design of a University of Utah building can be applied to other building types.
Giants 400 | Feb 9, 2023
New Giants 400 download: Get the complete at-a-glance 2022 Giants 400 rankings in Excel
See how your architecture, engineering, or construction firm stacks up against the nation's AEC Giants. For more than 45 years, the editors of Building Design+Construction have surveyed the largest AEC firms in the U.S./Canada to create the annual Giants 400 report. This year, a record 519 firms participated in the Giants 400 report. The final report includes 137 rankings across 25 building sectors and specialty categories.
Laboratories | Oct 5, 2022
Bigger is better for a maturing life sciences sector
CRB's latest report predicts more diversification and vertical integration in research and production.
Laboratories | Sep 12, 2022
Lab space scarcity propels construction demand in life sciences sector
In its 2021 Life Sciences Real Estate Outlook, JLL predicted that access to talent would be a primary concern for an industry sector that had been growing by leaps and bounds. A year later, talent still guides real estate decisions. But market conditions of a different sort were cooling the biotech field: namely, investors that have soured on startups which underperformed after going public. What this means for new construction and renovation going forward is unpredictable, as the drivers behind life sciences’ surge are still palpable.
Giants 400 | Aug 22, 2022
Top 70 Science + Technology Facility Contractors + CM Firms 2022
Whiting-Turner, Hensel Phelps, DPR Construction, and Skanska USA top the rankings of the nation's largest science and technology (S+T) facility contractors and construction management (CM) firms, as reported in Building Design+Construction's 2022 Giants 400 Report.
Giants 400 | Aug 22, 2022
Top 70 Science + Technology Facility Engineering + EA Firms 2022
Jacobs, CRB, Fluor, and Affiliated Engineers Inc. head the rankings of the nation's largest science and technology (S+T) facility engineering and engineering/architecture (EA) firms, as reported in Building Design+Construction's 2022 Giants 400 Report.
Giants 400 | Aug 22, 2022
Top 100 Science + Technology Facility Architecture + AE Firms 2022
HDR, Flad Architects, Gensler, and DGA top the rankings of the nation's largest science and technology (S+T) facility architecture and architecture/engineering (AE) firms, as reported in Building Design+Construction's 2022 Giants 400 Report.