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April 8, 2002

Whitehead Building makes grand debut

By Eric Rangus


A string quartet and large portraits etched in glass of the family whose name graces the Whitehead Biomedical Research Building greeted the roughly 120 people who gathered to celebrate the opening of Emory’s newest—and in many ways most exemplary—building.

Nearly three years and $81.3 million dollars after it broke ground in the summer of 1999, the Whitehead Building opened officially on April 2 with music in the atrium and a brief ceremony in the auditorium. Afterward, visitors were given a chance to tour what will be a jewel among Emory’s facilities for many years.

“We needed a living, breathing structure to attract and retain the best researchers in the world,” said Michael Johns, executive vice president for health affairs, one of four Emory dignitaries to speak at the dedication. “You are in that building today.”

Among Whitehead’s eight floors and 325,000 square feet of office and state-of-the art laboratory space are the departments of cell biology, human genetics and physiology; two new entities, the Neurodegenerative Disease Center and the Center for Medical Genomics; and major research efforts in pulmonary and critical care medicine, pathology and laboratory medicine, and digestive diseases.

Whitehead includes 150 faculty offices and 150 laboratory modules that utilize the “open lab” concept; researchers have large, flexible labs, offering easy access to the ideas of their colleagues in many disparate disciplines. According to Thomas Lawley, dean of the School of Medicine, collaborative research will be the norm.

“This means synergy, efficiency and the likelihood of new discoveries on an accelerated timetable,” he said.
As part of the dedication, President Bill Chace gave a brief history of the Whitehead family, a story he called Emory’s “most undertold.”

The Whiteheads, Joseph B. and Letitia Pate, and their sons, Joseph Jr. and Conkey, spent many millions of dollars on philanthropic efforts. Their money came from the fortune Joseph Sr. amassed through his groundbreaking idea at the turn of the century to sell Coca-Cola in bottles. Before Whitehead’s ingenious idea, the drink had only served in fountains.

Emory and its health care facilities were the recipients of much of the family’s generosity. The Whitehead family name is quite familiar on campus, particularly in its medical areas; in addition to the new building, the Whitehead name is attached to the surgical pavilion at Emory Hospital, as well as a reception and conference area within that pavilion, and the Joseph B. Whitehead Chair is a chaired professorship in the Department of Surgery.

Other gifts to Emory from the Whitehead family and foundations include scholarships, facility enhancements and several programs for patient care, teaching and research.

“They transformed this university in countless ways,” Chace said, “this magnificent building being the latest example. It is a masterpiece in every way.”

Not only is the Whitehead Building groundbreaking in its research facilities, but it also is environmentally sound in ways no Emory building—and few buildings anywhere—have ever been.

The Whitehead Building is one just 13 buildings in the country certified by the Leadership in Energy Environmental Design (LEED) program. It is equipped with special heat-recovery wheels projected to save an annual $100,000 in energy costs and condensate-recovery units that could save 2.5 million gallons of water per year. Storm water from the roof and plaza is collected by these units and used for irrigation. With its many windows, natural light is available to 90 percent of the building’s occupants, saving on electricity.

“This building stands as a tribute to the family’s collective vision of a better, healthier and happier world,” Chace said.

Eight trustees of the families’ varied foundations were on hand to cut the ribbon that officially opened the building.

“This is a great day in the life of this institution,” said Ben Johnson, chair of the Board of Trustees, who presided over the dedication. “This building will become a platform for generations to come for translating biomedical research into making people healthy.”