Using traditional granite in modern ways

The Virginia Bioinformatics Institute at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA, was designed by Calloway Johnson Moore & West P.A. of Winston-Salem, NC, and the facility is expected to serve as an integral component to the long-term growth of the University’s campus.

Photo © JamesWest/

The three-story, 132,000-square-foot Virginia Bioinformatics Institute at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA, was designed in two phases to support research in biotechnology, bioinformatics, environmental science, health technologies and functional genomics. Programming, planning, design and construction administration for both phases of the project were implemented by Calloway Johnson Moore & West P.A. of Winston-Salem, NC, and the facility is expected to serve as an integral component to the long-term growth of the University’s campus.

According to Michael West of Calloway Johnson Moore & West, who served as both Principal-in-Charge and Project Designer for the research complex, the objective of the project was to blend the building in with surrounding structures on campus. “The goal was to integrate a large research building into the University’s campus fabric, which features NeoGothic characteristics, while still having a modern-looking building,” he explained.

And in order to meet the desired aesthetic, traditional “Hokie Stone” was selected. West explained that the University owns two quarries for this material, both of which are local to the campus. “It is a gray granite that we used on about two thirds of the building’s exterior,” he said.

According to Calloway Johnson Moore & West, the use of Hokie Stone - as well as building in the collegiate gothic style - began on the campus in the early 1900s and continued through the 1960s. It was then brought back as part of the campus design guidelines in the 1983 Master Plan.

“Some buildings on campus didn’t integrate Hokie Stone much, and were very modern looking, but didn’t seem to fit into the campus characteristics,” West said, adding that as a result, a private Board of Visitors from Virginia Tech got more involved with the design and approval of new buildings. “We also collaborated a great deal with the University’s own architects.”

Now, Hokie Stone is required cladding for all new buildings on the main campus, and Virginia Tech has very specific guidelines for architects/contractors that detail methods of connection and installation, reports the architectural firm.

“We always knew we were going to use stone, it was just a matter of how much to use in combination with the precast, metal panels and stainless steel,” explained West. “One challenge was in trying to integrate the rough-cut rectilinear blocks to make the building look modern. Rough-cut stone doesn’t tend to make buildings look modern, but the campus wanted a progressive building using this material, so it was challenging to integrate that kind of rough stone to create a modern building.”

Phase I, which was completed in 2003, comprises 60,000 square feet and includes six separate wet labs for individual researchers, a core computer lab for large-scale community research, an information technology classroom and computer support spaces. Moreover, the facility features a three-story atrium with skylights in the main lobby.

Designed to facilitate informal interaction among the researchers, Phase II of the complex added 72,000 square feet to the facility, and it was completed in the Spring of 2007. It provided 16 additional wet labs, a computer room and computational computer lab, as well as additional computer support spaces.

The combined phases provided a 175-seat presentation auditorium, a boardroom and conference spaces.

According to West, the reaction to the project has been extremely positive. “Everyone we’ve talked to says the stone design is iconic of classical Virginia Tech architecture,” he said.

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