seating area with black chairs and floor to ceiling windows facing the city
Francesco Favaretto’s Bombom chairs and Luca Nichetto’s Luca sofa and tables form a seating vignette in the Allison Institute.

Inside a Houston Healthcare Building Dedicated to Connectivity

Everything’s bigger in the Lone Star State. The Texas Medical Center in Houston is the largest such complex in the world as well as among its most highly regarded. Spanning more than 2 square miles, encompassing 61 different hospitals and institutions, it constitutes the eighth largest business district in the U.S., one that recently became even larger with the addition of TMC Helix Park, a 37-acre trailblazing life-sciences campus that will eventually include multiple laboratory and research buildings along with a convention center, hotel, an apartment tower, and retail space—more than 5 million square feet of real estate in all. 

The first structure, the four-story, 250,000-square-foot TMC3 Collaborative Building, opened in October 2023. Elkus Manfredi Architects, the big Boston-based firm assigned the inaugural project as well as the master planning of Helix Park, has stats almost as impressive as the client’s: It not only ranks number 48 among the Interior Design top 100 Giants but also 34th, 43rd, and 49th on the Hospitality, Sustainability, and Healthcare Giants lists, respectively. David P. Manfredi, CEO and founding principal along with the late Howard F. Elkus, describes TMC3 as “both the convening space for the Helix campus as well as a microcosm of the whole.” Dedicated to connectivity and cooperation between and among researchers and private-sector partners, the facility is inspired by translational science: “Traditionally, there’s been a great divide between academic and commercial science, the biopharmaceuticals,” Manfredi notes. “The translational science construct brings the two worlds together to move solutions from lab to market as fast as possible.”

Discover The LEED Gold-Certified TMC3 Building

space with ceramic fritted glass stairways that all interconnect
The 12,000-square-foot space is topped with a ceramic fritted glass skylight and surrounded by tiers of open circulation corridors fronting glass-walled offices and labs.

“The model at TMC3 is to combine fully equipped laboratory space, promising startups, and organizations that offer seed capital and support in translational medicine,” says Elkus Manfredi principal Elizabeth Lowrey, who led the interior architecture team. “We’re shifting from a research mindset of ‘mine’ to one of ‘ours.’” Thus, the building’s 43,000 square feet of state-of-the-art laboratories are shared by three of TMC’s founding institutions: the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, the Texas A&M University Health Science Center, and the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. 

The building itself, Manfredi continues, “is almost square in plan, out of which is hollowed an atrium that serves as the town square for the whole campus, the agora for ideas.” Throwing off the rectangular footprint slightly, the east facade describes a long, shallow curve that follows the arc of the adjacent garden—one of five green spaces by landscape architect Mikyoung Kim that connect in a DNA-inspired double helix, a near 7-acre expanse that gives the campus its name. 

large atrium with multiple stairways and large LED screen on top of a wooden platform
Centering on a 22-by-35-foot LED screen used for educational and cultural events as well as product presentations by the researchers and startup companies working at TMC3, the atrium has limestone flooring and is crisscrossed by a bridge and staircases connecting the upper levels.

As for the atrium, it’s also strikingly expansive: 12,000 square feet of limestone-clad floor space topped by an almost equally large ceramic fritted glass skylight nearly 75 feet above. Fronted by deep balcony corridors, three encircling tiers of glass-walled laboratories and administrative offices overlook the huge volume, which is crisscrossed by a bridge and staircases linking the floors. Transparency and connectivity are more than metaphors here. 

Thanks to bleacher seating and a podium backed by a giant video screen, the atrium accommodates educational and cultural events, while oak slats covering the walls and balcony undersides bring warmth and texture to the imposing venue, as do the poured-in-place concrete walls surrounding the reception area. Dedicating so much cubic footage to an atrium might seem counterintuitive but, flooded with daylight, its vast dimensions and natural surfaces animate the whole building. “You walk in, and the generosity of light and space become palpable,” Lowrey observes. “The materials bring a human touch to the scale, making the huge volume feel approachable and reassuring.” 

executive suite reception area swathed in all white
Executive-suite reception features MUT Design’s Block seating, Marco Merendi & Diego Vencato’s Caementum side tables, a customized Tidal B rug by Workshop/APD, and a terrace with Lievore Altherr Molina’s Leaf chairs.

The second and third stories contain the joint laboratories and adjacent administrative areas. The fourth floor houses the TMC executive suite—a low key–luxe environment of glossy whites and silver grays offset by marble flooring and wood or suede paneling—partner-institution offices, and the James P. Allison Institute, a 14,000-square-foot cancer research lab named for the resident Nobel laureate. Furniture throughout is clean and modern, with a representative sampling of blue-chip pieces by Jasper Morrison, MUT Design, Luca Nichetto, and other contemporary luminaries. 

As befits a medical center, the LEED Gold–certified TMC3 building places a premium on the health and well-being of its occupants, most conspicuously by maximizing the physical relationship between the interiors and the natural world. “When we began discussing our involvement with Helix Park back in 2019,” Manfredi recalls, “one of the first things I said was that the outdoor spaces are as important as the indoor ones.” The curving east facade hosts an amphitheater-like array of staggered terraces—sun-drenched, lushly planted, and furnished with pristine-white tables and chairs by Lievore Altherr Molina and Richard Schultz, they are an irresistibly welcoming al fresco amenity. And, of course, the ground floor offers immediate access to the green park where in good weather research teams can hold meetings under a canopy of shade trees. “People are not just working out there—they can have lunch together or a beer on Friday after work or movie nights and kite festivals,” Manfredi concludes. “Making all those connections with colleagues and their families in a low-pressure, natural environment will accelerate the science.” 

Take A Look At The TMC3 Collaborative Building In Houston

Curved east facade of the building shaded with a pergola and surrounded by greenery
The curved east facade sports a stack of pergola-shaded, planted terraces, this one furnished with Richard Schultz’s 1966 chairs.
executive corridor wall in all white with grey seating
Gathered with Susanne Grønlund’s Noomi lounge chair and Sebastian Wrong’s Spun Light-F floor lamp, Morrison’s Orla sofa echoes the curve of the executive corridor wall.
woman standing in hallway with mirrors, wooden dividers and tv screens
On the Texas Medical Center campus in Houston, uplit custom oak grids host video screens in the entrance gallery to the James P. Allison Institute, a cancer research lab in the four-story TMC3 Collaborative Building by Elkus Manfredi Architects, also the master planner of the 37-acre TMC Helix Park in which the structure stands.
reception desk with concrete walls and wooden ceiling
More oak, in the form of ceiling slats, joins poured-concrete walls to cocoon the main reception desk, also custom.
aerial view of an internal balcony with people sitting at the tables
An internal balcony outfitted with Dan West’s Cultivate table and Jasper Morrison’s Alfi chairs overlooks stadium seating in the atrium.
view of reception with slatted ceiling and brightly lit space
The view from reception emphasizes the dynamic nature of the central volume, which rises nearly 75 feet.
outside an executive office with oak veneer corridor paneling
Outside an executive office, corridor paneling is either oak veneer or high-gloss lacquer.
white corridor with red and black graphics
Custom graphics emblazon an Allison Institute corridor.
all-white boardroom with long white table and high ceilings
Ultrasuede paneling enhances acoustics in the boardroom, where Kevin Stark’s Cadre chairs line the custom etched glass–topped conference table and Together benches by Eoos provide window seating.
Entrance gallery with concrete flooring and wooden dividers
Flooring is concrete in the institute’s entrance gallery, as it is throughout TMC3’s second and third floors.
seating area with black chairs and floor to ceiling windows facing the city
Francesco Favaretto’s Bombom chairs and Luca Nichetto’s Luca sofa and tables form a seating vignette in the Allison Institute.

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