Precision & Sophistication: A French Pharmaceutical Research Company’s New North American HQ

Press Release from FCA

As our corporate environments continue to take on more hospitality and residential themes, it’s hard not to jump on the train. But does it make sense for every company? That answer should absolutely be a resounding no. In Newark, New Jersey, the University Heights Science and Technology Park (UHSTP), is an urban redevelopment initiative uniting five universities and biomedical organizations. The Park’s newest tenant is Biotrial, a French contract research company that provides pharmaceutical testing, along with other medical research solutions including bioanalytics, imaging psychometric testing, patient data management, biostatistics, medical writing, quality assurance and regulatory affairs. Biotrial occupies a unique space between public and private realms of the medical and pharmaceutical industry; while its clients are pharmaceutical corporations, Biotrial’s work in getting new drugs approved is closely reviewed by the FDA. Its identity is grounded in science, sophistication, minimalism, and precise detailing. “If you think about the personality of pharmacist, or a pharmaceutical company, you think of precision and levelheadedness,” says Jim Crispino, president and design principal at Francis Cauffman, the firm that designed the new building, including interiors. “We wanted the new building to programmatically capture that identity on several levels. It’s a really well organized company, and a very interesting company to watch. The people who work there are very invested in the work they do; in many respects, they act as the gatekeepers to the realm of public health.” In its new 70,000 square foot building, Biotrial made two compelling requests: that it include maximum natural daylighting and that it signify “good” architecture.

“Daylighting and views were incredibly important to them – to be able to provide that for every person who works there. We saturated the space with natural light. On a good sunny day, there’s no need to turn on any lights.” Natural light seeps into the interior through the use of glass as well as through asymmetrical ribbon windows in the building’s brick façade. This is due in part to the building’s unique profile; at 55 feet wide and 270 feet long, the footprint took shape with a strong European influence. “Many buildings Europeans are accustomed to are quite narrow, which allows for a lot of natural light. The geography of the building and the use of simple rectangles was a direct reflection of that.”

“I spoke to Jean-Marc Gandon, the CEO of Biotrial, many times about the nature and personality of both Biotrial and of the building. He said, ‘We want a building that Americans will look at and think of it as good architecture. We want people to see the building and our company through the filter of an American eye.’”

“Francis Cauffman designed the building as two interlocking planes, whose materials reflect Biotrial’s values. The rear, private façade is solid black brick with matching mortar, which gives a sense of strength and solidity. In contrast, the front is a fritted glass curtain wall, communicating openness and transparency. The fritting creates movement as the light passes through, while also providing privacy.” “Inspired by the nature of Biotrial’s work, the designers created a ribbon of metal, suggestive of the fluidity of chemistry, to tie the two planes together. The ribbon forms an entrance canopy on the private side, moves through the building as the lobby ceiling, and reemerges on the public side to create a frame for the vestibule and finally the canopy for services.”  Mr. Crispino noted that the project accentuated the cultural differences and contrasts between French and American regulatory perspectives. “The planning and zoning process, to a French ear, is onerous. Their feeling is that they own the land and the building, and that’s it.

The new building as a whole is a hard working one; it has to satisfy a lot of differing needs for a fast-rotating collection of permanent and temporary workers, as well as guests who participate in the clinical trials.

The building’s numerous functions proved a balancing act for the design team. On the interior, a slew of specialty spaces sit alongside traditional corporate work zones, including a laboratory, pharmacy, clinical facilities including a 100-bed unit for conducting clinical trials (two full floors are dedicated to living accommodations for clinical trial volunteers who could be onsite anywhere from one day to three weeks), and a corporate and volunteer recruitment office. “We thought a lot about how to create spaces for the future. What does a pharmacy look like in 2022? The future of the industry is really tech-driven, so we considered advancing technologies like robotics and other things. A lot of the conversations we had revolved around that type of future-focused question.” It takes a few years just to get a building up, and the design team fixated on designing facilities that would be cutting edge five to eight years down the road.

Aesthetically, the new office building reflects Biotrial’s identity. The offices feel open clean, minimal and sophisticated – providing employees and guests room to breathe. The new five-story building is amenity rich; employees and guests enjoy facilities including a café, library, lounge, and outdoor terraces and gardens. Biotrial also made significant investments in art; sculpture in particular. On the upper corporate floor, glass enclosed meeting rooms complement a balance of private offices and open plan workstations, 30% and 70% respectively. Mr. Crispino noted that the large number of private offices reflects the hierarchical nature of corporate environments in Europe. That being said, Francis Cauffman designed the private offices to be modular and flexible; each office can fit a combination of one, two or four employees. The Park currently comprises the New Jersey Institute of Technology’s (NJIT) Enterprise Development Center and its 90 incubator companies, the International Center for Public Health and the Regional Biocontainment Laboratory of the New Jersey Medical School of Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences University. Biotrial’s new North American home is a built-in opportunity for collaborative innovation. And it’s taking its investment in the neighborhood to heart. In the Park, it purchased an entire city block, and its current building occupies just a quarter of the block. A master plan includes a second building that will connect to the first one with a linking structure of some sort.

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