ASU biodesign C outdoor atrium
Research Laboratory — Tempe, AZ

ASU Biodesign Institute C Research Building

enr best of the best logoMcCarthy recently completed construction of the $120 million Biodesign Institute C research laboratory at Arizona State University (ASU). The building represents the third in ASU’s 14-acre Biodesign Institute complex located on the main campus in Tempe, Ariz.

The new 191,035-square-foot research facility includes five stories, a mechanical penthouse, plus a basement that connects with the ASU Biodesign Institute B building and houses the world's first compact free electron X-ray laser. The project is comprised of approximately 60,000 square feet of flexible lab space for up to 80 lead researchers and 300 support staff who will be supporting ASU’s goal of increasing research revenue to $815 million by 2025. The building’s adaptable design accommodates multiple types of scientific research, including chemistry, biological sciences and engineering research. The building, comprised mostly of wet laboratories and offices, also includes high-bay spaces.

Biodesign Institute C will house a one-of-a-kind key drug discovery and bioenergy research tool – the world’s first compact free electron X-ray laser – a super X-ray that peers deep inside proteins to better understand both the action of molecules critical to cancer and other devastating diseases and how plants convert sunlight into renewable energy.

The building’s fifth floor is designed to accommodate Arizona’s growing success in the area of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and dementia research, and is envisioned to ultimately house one of the largest teams of Alzheimer’s researchers in the nation.

The project was designated a “STAR Site” by the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health (ADOSH), which presented the award to McCarthy as part of its Construction Voluntary Protection Program (C-VPP). Companies, general contractors and job sites that are awarded the STAR designation demonstrate exemplary and comprehensive safety and health management systems.

VPP STAR designation is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) highest program of safety recognition across all federal and state OSHA offices. It recognizes employers and workers in private and federal workplaces who have exemplified effective safety and health management systems that achieve injury and illness rates more than 50 percent below the national average.

Work began in October 2016 and the structure topped out in June 2017, with substantial completion in the spring of 2018. 

Construction Voluntary Protection Program
square feet
on Schedule


  • KPFF Consulting Engineers


  • Affiliated Engineers, Inc.

Lead Design Firm

  • ZGF Architects, LLP


  • Dibble Engineering

Associate Architect

  • BWS Architects

McCarthy’s collaborative approach and leadership during the preconstruction of ASU BioDesign Institute C project has been a breath of fresh air.

Bruce Nevel
Associate VP for Facilities Development & Management, ASU

Solution Highlights

At the outset, the team, comprised of ASU’s Facilities Development and Management (FDM), the Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development (OKED), University Planning, the Biodesign Institute, McCarthy, and ZGF | BWS Architects agreed on several goals for the project, including a design that is a meaningful architectural response to the campus environment, flexible and adaptable floorplates, high space utilization, 100 percent reliable operation, low cost of ownership, and on-time and on-budget delivery.

The cost certainty established and maintained throughout the project’s lifecycle allowed the owners to make timely decisions and maximize every dollar spent.

Scientists of varying disciplines are housed in the lab’s “neighborhoods,” a layout of close proximity that encourages collaboration. The design was modeled after state-of-the-art research complexes like the J. Craig Venter Institute in La Jolla, Calif., which was also built by McCarthy.

Following ASU’s green building standards, Biodesign Institute C will be designed to the highest levels of sustainability and will include an innovative HVAC system to limit its energy and environmental footprint. Upon completion, Biodesign Institute C will bring the total research square footage of the Biodesign complex to more than a half-million square feet. It is also a LEED Platinum building and the most energy efficient research lab on campus.


Working with McCarthy on Biodesign C was an outstanding experience. Early on in the process we were able to work collaboratively to achieve success that met the needs of the client, intent of the design and remained in line with the budget. This team-focused, collaborative effort was the key to the project team’s success during design!

Robin Shambach
BWS Architects

Key Success Metrics

  • The campus was built to house the world’s first compact X-ray laser. Traditionally a one-mile long device costing $1 billion, the laser at Biodesign C is $25 million despite being not much larger than the size of a dining room table.
  • It took a large amount of intricate concrete work with slab foundations in the basement of up to 6 feet thick. That design, which included low-magnetization rebar, helped minimize vibration. The laser is also protected by a 4-foot thick, 36,000-pound lead-shielded door to help reduce magnetic fields and contain the energy from the laser beam.
  • The upper floors were built to Vibration Criteria-A compliance of 2,000 micro in. per second and the basement laser area to Vibration Criteria-E of 125 micro in. per second.
  • The white concrete used on the project’s magnificent 28-foot tall, sloping columns was so precise our teams invested the time and effort to use 18 mockups, each time based on comments and feedback from ASU, to reach the final process. This is also the first LEED Platinum building in Arizona thanks to its high-performance and innovative energy features.

Biodesign C is part of a planned four-building structure that is interconnected, covering nearly 800,000 square feet. Owner ASU needed the building to not only meet technical specifications, but to also attract scientists from around the world to use the device.

I want to take a moment to thank you for the extraordinary effort that you exhibited in the development of the new Biodesign C facility. Our senior leadership is very pleased with the outcome and you should be very proud of the imprinted legacy that you leave with this magnificent building.

Ed Soltero
ASU Assistant Vice President and University Architect

asu biodesign c in construction


McCarthy Building Companies proactively led collaborative sessions with university representatives, architects, engineers and subcontractors, to ensure that ongoing changes to the building minimally impacted the overall project cost and schedule.

Two key challenges were how to deal with worst-case scenarios involving weather, especially desert winds. Another was determining how to create a flexible and adaptable space that fulfilled the needs of future researchers in terms of space, utilities, and configuration.


As an example, to accommodate a research group with highly specialized needs, the third floor of the facility faced significant changes during construction. The project team worked to creatively navigate the delay using Building Information Modeling (BIM) technology to make real-time modifications to the mechanical systems that re-sequenced and expedited the work, cutting what should have been a 10-week delay in half.

A small exterior mockup was built on site using building materials, then subjected to worst-case scenarios of wind, water and smoke to allow testing for deficiencies and ensuring energy efficiency. Another mockup of an interior lab space was created to help researchers determine placement of their typical features such as outlets


The X-ray laser vaults in the basement needed to be magnetically neutral in order to not affect the laser and the research occurring in that space. The challenge with this is that the rebar in the concrete walls and the steel plate that was being added to the headwall of the vault for radiation protection had magnetic properties that would hinder this requirement. The original design called for stainless steel rebar to be used in place of the typical rebar and steel which resulted in over $1 million worth of scope being added to the project.


The construction team worked with the end user for this space and researched a method of demagnetization called degaussing. The construction team was able to sort and degauss — or demagnetize — all of the steel prior to being placed in the vault concrete walls, floor and ceiling. Additionally, the team degaussed the eight inches of steel plate that was added at the headwall of the vault required for radiation protection. Each piece of rebar was individually metered using a gauss meter and all “hot” or very magnetic rebar was removed from the install and or was degaussed. Following the installation of the rebar and steel plates the construction team surveyed the area with the end user’s team to confirm that the area was in fact magnetically acceptable for their sensitive equipment.


This innovation resulted in saving over $1 million for the project that was ultimately added back into the project as added scope. The space passed all degaussing tests and is currently being occupied by the research team.


The ASU Biodesign Institute C research lab was programmed and designed to be a universal lab which could accommodate many different types of research without significant changes being made to the project. This requirement was due to ASU not currently being aware of the researchers that would be occupying the space or the type of research those principle investigators would be conducting. ASU had notified the project team that these changes would be coming and it was the team’s goal to absorb the modifications made by the new researchers and not let the budget or the schedule be impacted by any changes.


The project team met with the owner and the new principle investigators occupying the space to understand what research requirements and modifications would be necessary in order to make the space fully functional for the incoming team. Design charrettes were held that were accompanied with real-time estimating provided by the McCarthy team, as well as schedule modifications necessary in order to keep the project on schedule and within the budget.


The project finished on time and the building has several specialty researchers conducting very unique, groundbreaking research in the building. The project also remained within the original $120 million budget.

The best concrete I have seen in my entire life is the project at ASU currently near completion. You guys did an incredible job. Best craftsmanship I’ve seen; especially the concrete. We need to replicate what we have done here.

Ted Hyman
ZGF Architects, LLP


Mike Gonzalez

Mike Gonzalez

6225 N 24th St
Ste 125
Phoenix, AZ 85050

Awards and Recognition

ENR SW logo
2018 ENR Project of the Year

Higher Education/Research
ASU Biodesign Institute C
Engineering News-Record Southwest

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2018 Environmental Awards of Distinction

ASU Biodesign Institute C
Arizona Forward

enr sw logo
2018 ENR Top Project Award

Higher Education/Research
ASU Biodesign Institute C
Engineering News-Record Southwest

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2018 AIA | LA Cote Award

ASU Biodesign Institute C
The American Institute of Architects

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2017 STAR Safety Award

ASU Biodesign Institute C
Arizona Division of Occupational Safety & Health