A NEWCOMER TO the architectural scene in Maryland, the Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Partnership of Portland, Ore., has won an international competition to design one of the most coveted health care projects in the United States, a $300 million addition to the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda.
The NIH project, called the Clinical Research Center, is the first major commission in Maryland for the highly regarded West Coast group, which was named the 1991 Firm of the Year by the American Institute of Architects.
The NIH, on a 320-acre campus off Wisconsin Avenue in Bethesda, occupies nearly 50 buildings and has 12,000 employees. Nearly two dozen institutes conduct research on a wide range of fields, from cancer to AIDS to Alzheimer's disease.
The expansion involves construction of a 250-bed hospital in which research facilities will be close to patient treatment areas. Funded by the federal government, it will provide a new front door to the NIH's inpatient facility, a complex that rises 15 stories and dates from the 1950s.
The 850,000-square-foot addition is being launched to replace outdated facilities at the NIH and improve the way health care services are delivered. Besides seeking to upgrade its research environment, the NIH wants to reduce the total number of beds from 420 to 250. Boston Properties, a private developer, is the development consultant.
Twenty-nine architectural teams bid to take part in the competition, including firms from Italy and Mexico. The NIH narrowed the field to six finalists, who were each given $50,000 to develop a preliminary design indicating how they would approach the project.
Besides ZGF, the finalists were teams headed by Kohn Pederson Fox of New York; Kallmann, McKinnell & Wood of Boston; Cesar Pelli & Associates of New Haven, Conn.; Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates of Philadelphia; and the Renzo Piano Building Workshop of Genoa, Italy.
The six teams presented their designs in November. ZGF and Kallmann, McKinnell & Wood were invited back for interviews with NIH Director Harold Varmus, who chose ZGF. Also on the winning team are NBBJ Inc. of Seattle, and Metcalf, Tobey and Davis of Reston, Va.
The project is worth about $18 million to the design team, assuming fees equal to about 6 percent of the construction cost. The total project budget is $380 million.
ZGF is best known for works in the Northwest, including the Oregon Convention Center and much of Portland's light rail system. Previous health care projects include the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the Pacific Medical Center, both in Seattle.
Partner Robert Frasca, who heads the NIH effort, studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with noted architect Pietro Belluschi, who moved to the Northwest and encouraged Mr. Frasca to establish his practice there as well. Mr. Belluschi has headed the design effort for many significant Maryland projects, including the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer on Charles Street and the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall.
Of the six finalists, ZGF was the only one that proposed a low-rise expansion instead of a mid-rise or high-rise addition. It was also the only one that put research labs, not patient rooms, on the perimeter of the complex. The architects proposed a giant glass-covered lobby to mark the entrance to the Clinical Research Center and serve as the "hearth" of the NIH complex.
Walter Armstrong, project director of the Clinical Research Center for the NIH, said the design is subject to change, since the competition was held to select an architect and not a final design. But he said employees who have seen the design generally say they like it.
"Employees have made comments such as 'I can see myself working in this building' and 'It doesn't overpower the campus,' " Mr. Armstrong said. The architects "seemed to strike all the right chords."
The architects will spend much of this year and next on design work. Assuming funds are approved, construction will begin in 1998 and be completed in 2002. ZGF has agreed to open a regional office in Maryland as a condition for winning the design contract.
Members of the jury were Edward Feiner, chief architect of the GSA's Public Building Service; Deborah Dietsch, editor in chief of Architecture magazine; and Roger Montgomery, former dean of architecture at the University of California at Berkeley.