Johns Hopkins University, Applied Physics Laboratory, Building 201

Designing the future of research for the nation’s top scientists

Johns Hopkins University, Applied Physics Laboratory
Laurel, Maryland, United States
263,000 square feet
Completed 2021

A new generation of scientists are challenging the status quo by looking for better ways to perform their research. They are seeking laboratories and spaces that enable collaboration, encourage creativity, allow for flexibility and promote their well-being. The laboratory of the future helps catalyze this new paradigm by breaking down traditional barriers to scientific discovery and paving the way toward improved recruitment, retention, productivity and innovation.

Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) Building 201 is one of the best examples in the world of this new paradigm shift in science. The APL is a not-for-profit, university-affiliated research center that employs more than 6,000 of the nation’s top scientists, engineers and technical specialists focused on research that ensures national security, advances the frontiers of science and engineering, and educates and inspires the next generation of STEM professionals. Within APL is the Research and Exploratory Development Department (REDD)—the “research engine” of the laboratory that develops cutting-edge solutions for current and future challenges facing our nation. 

Visitors to the building first encounter the dramatic "flying fourth floor," which appears to float on a forest of randomly spaced steel columns.

A new home for REDD

REDD’s work is highly multidisciplinary, merging the research of science, engineering and fabrication. As such, the 650-person department required a flexible laboratory and office space that accommodated a collaborative, open workplace environment. REDD’s new home in Building 201 provides researchers with the flexible, open laboratories and core facilities they sought. As Johns Hopkins University leads all U.S. universities in research grants and development expenditures, every aspect is designed to increase the sharing of knowledge and the rate of technology transfer within one of America’s most critical and significant scientific workplaces.


Design that celebrates discovery

Our design team emphasized the new building should itself be an embodiment of the important physics research that will take place within its walls. The building’s overall design promotes scientists’ interaction through openness, transparency and visual connectivity; leverages workplace strategies to integrate lab and office environments; and helps to increase connections to the university and outside industries.

The exterior steel columns supporting the fourth floor represent each of the many disparate research disciplines that can be found at APL, all working together toward one, common purpose. Here, structure is expressed in a design philosophy that will help APL explain its research mission. When looking up under the cantilever, mirrored stainless steel cladding imbues the extremely heavy structure with a surprising airiness.


The heart of the building is a four-story atrium that functions much like a town square with large and small, open and enclosed meeting areas adjacent to each other. Throughout this space and the rest of the building, architecturally exposed concrete helps further the goal of expressing the physics behind the design.

A network of bridges and stairs weave collaborators and light alike between the teams. REDD’s mantra of “seeing what others have seen but thinking what no one has thought” has been demonstrated in architectural terms.


Complex science, flexible solutions

Although each program within REDD has a specific research focus, we designed the building’s lab spaces to facilitate the sharing of ideas, research and core facility equipment. The five-level structure includes lower-level laboratory space that houses vibration- and electromagnetically sensitive technical instrumentation, thus requiring specialized sub-grade concrete and waterproofing construction.

To achieve the goal of merging materials research, biomedicine, analysis and fabrication in the development of revolutionary material technologies, the laboratories are designed to accommodate a range of capabilities that include soft material, nanomaterial, composite fabrication and biomaterials labs, as well as synthetic, characterization and analytical chemistry.

Building 201’s shared core facilities include state-of-the-art imaging equipment, such as two Scios Dual-Beam SEMs, a CT x-ray image acquisition unit and a photon emission microscope. Optics labs, which range from high-powered lasers to molecular spectroscopy, feature tight environmental controls, including VC-E vibration criteria, low-humidity control and dust-free environments.

Inspiring the next generation of STEM students

Located immediately off the main atrium is a space dedicated solely for STEM discovery for school-aged students. The APL realizes its responsibility to educate and inspire the next generation of scientists and this space provides learning opportunities to inspire them to aim high and achieve great things.