Property & Buildings
Engineering Innovation

WSP Designs World’s Largest High-Containment Research Lab

A military medical facility designed to provide the world’s largest safe environment for infectious disease research will soon open its doors for critical scientific studies.



The U.S. Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases facility at Fort Detrick, Maryland is in the final commissioning stage and will be opened in early 2018.

With construction wrapping up this fall, final commissioning is under way at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRII) at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Maryland. The building is targeting occupancy by May 2018.

The 930,000-square-foot building will serve as the lead facility for the U.S. Biological Defense Research Program, replacing the current outdated and overcrowded USAMRIID building.


Les Gartner

“The current facility is about 40 years old and does not meet current containment standards,” said Les Gartner, project director for WSP. “The new facility is easier to maintain and operate, provides additional space, and is designed to meet current codes and guidelines. It also provides additional capability to fulfill its current and future mission.”

The new building features state-of-the-art high-level biocontainment laboratory space, animal facilities, administrative offices, and operational and administrative support facilities, which facilitates high-containment research on infectious diseases that may affect military personnel in the field.

WSP, as part of a joint venture for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, provided containment architectural and engineering design services for the high-containment components of the project.

“Our firm provided knowledge of current high-containment design from other national and international high-containment projects that we designed,” Gartner said.

World’s Largest

WSP was responsible for the research facility’s high-containment laboratories, including design of biosafety level 4 (BSL4) research space – the highest containment level – which allows scientists to work on deadly diseases in an environment that is safe for the scientists and the community.



The new facility, shown in this rendering, provides additional capability to fulfill its current and future mission.

“A BSL4 lab is highly technical, with very stringent requirements and no tolerance for deficiencies,” Gartner said. “This facility will have the largest BSL4 space in the world built to acceptable international standards.”

WSP also designed the building’s BSL-3E enhanced imaging and aerobiology laboratories, a clinic, and logistics areas that provide planning, architectural and mechanical engineering services.

The project’s success required successful collaboration with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ facilities, scientific, and biosafety teams throughout design and construction of the project.



WSP was responsible for the research facility’s high-containment laboratories, including design of biosafety level 4 (BSL4) research space.

“Balancing these three teams was essential for a successful long-term project,” Gartner said. “Getting 24 of the client’s managers and leaders to consistently agree to approaches to the facility was one of our constant collaborative goals.”

Teaming sessions were regularly conducted, as well as exploratory trips to other containment facilities to ensure common understanding, awareness, and that decisions were made collectively.

“The final design factored in current and future science needs, which satisfied the scientific team,” Gartner said. “It is designed so that scientists can safely study highly infectious agents, satisfying the biosafety team. And the facility was designed and built in a way that allows it to be maintained safely and continuously, which addressed the facilities team’s concerns.”

Scientific Understanding

WSP is a leader in the design and construction of high-containment laboratories.

“Our firm has designed at least 10 of the world’s BSL4 labs,” Gartner said. “That allows us to bring international perspective to the U.S., and use our knowledge for world facilities that want to collaborate with the U.S.”

He said one of the keys to the firm’s success on laboratory projects like the USAMRIID facility is an understanding of the science taking place inside.

“These scientists are world-renowned, which requires us to take a world view of these types of facilities,” he said. “Our people have the experience and an understanding to the level where we are able to discuss the goals and mission with scientific leaders for this type of research.”

The client reaction to the new facility has been very positive.

“They are incredibly proud of it, as it is an amazing upgrade to their current labs on technical and inspirational levels,” Gartner said.

“The real story isn’t the size or the cost; it’s what the client will be able to do with this facility,” he added. “It will allow them to continue to develop vaccines and treatments for military personnel that are exposed to dangerous situations while performing their regular duties.”


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