The New York City Public Health Laboratory has been a landmark since its first revelation in 1892. The structure and its functionaries have been of utmost importance and indispensable to the city of New York since it was the first municipal bacteriological laboratory in the world. It was also the first to perform Covid-19 testing at the outbreak of the pandemic

This landmark is located in the Harlem neighbourhood and for years now has been an essential part of the healthcare sector, catering to millions in the city of New York. 

New Public Health Laboratory in New York designed by SOM Sheet1
Harlem, New York @ Patch

Can an institution of great value also be an iconic addition to the city’s skyline? | Public Health Laboratory

New Public Health Laboratory in New York designed by SOM Sheet2
SOM @ World Architecture

With the new designs unveiled by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM) for the New York Public Health Laboratory, the ten-story building aims at strengthening the city’s capability and responsiveness in a variety of public health issues. The new building is going to replace the existing structure and will be located next to the Harlem Hospital with an improvement in design through flexible spaces and various focus areas. 

“This extraordinary urban laboratory will provide the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene with a facility that will bolster their ability to protect the city from familiar threats, as well as unknown public health challenges that lie ahead,” says Mustafa Abadan, SOM Design Partner.

The pandemic has taught us the need and urgency of reliable healthcare infrastructures in the world, especially near communities that are not as privileged. The design of the Public Health Laboratory by SOM starts with a three-story podium, followed by a prominent cubic volume containing essential functions as well as community-facing accommodations. 

With a diagonal metal-clad exterior facade, the design also incorporates a partial green roof that separates the rest of the building from the five-floor laboratory tower. This feature represents a passive solar shading area for the 230,000 square foot facility. The new 400 million dollar laboratory will host a range of services addressing clinical, environmental, and community concerns. 

An Idea For Futuristic Community Engagement

New Public Health Laboratory in New York designed by SOM Sheet3
 SOM @ World Architecture

The outer language of the building makes a significant mark with its elaborated diagonal glass and metal cladding that presents an iconic forefront to this community engagement and healing centre. The building and its critical testing laboratories have been designed with the utmost security in access. Nevertheless, with the design of this structure, SOM has invoked a true sense of spirit towards the community with the hope and goal of increasing public engagement. 

The Public Health Laboratory is designed not only to encourage development in the field of healthcare but also to embrace the role of an active participant in the Harlem neighbourhood with a facility that includes several resources. A few blocks that are primarily occupied for critical testing are not accessible to the general public, however, the building also has a general testing facility, training lab, and an auditorium that is made available to the surrounding community.

New Public Health Laboratory in New York designed by SOM Sheet4
SOM @ World Architecture

“The design of the new laboratory is the culmination and celebration of mission, culture, and place. It moves beyond familiar institutional aesthetics to convey the duality between the building’s precise, rigorous laboratory environments and its dynamic Harlem context,” says Scott Habjan, SOM Senior Designer.

The newly unveiled design for the Public Health Laboratory by SOM also received its first honorary award by the Public Design Commission’s Award for Excellence. With a simple idea of bringing the community together, making healthcare in the area a top priority and with its awe-inspiring global design, the Public Health Laboratory soon aims to be an excellent addition to the New York City skyline

The structure will host equipment and provisions towards a futuristic goal of battling all public health emergencies. Moreover, SOM has proposed a design that will keep the wellness of its staff in mind and the laboratory will also comply with the city’s new, ambitious resiliency and sustainability regulations. 


World Architecture Community. (n.d.). SOM releases design for new Public Health Laboratory with diagonal metal clad façade in Harlem. [online] Available at: [Accessed 12 Aug. 2021].

ArchDaily. (2021). SOM Designs New Public Health Laboratory in New York. [online] Available at: [Accessed 12 Aug. 2021].

Archinect. (n.d.). SOM reveals plans for a new public health laboratory in Harlem. [online] Available at: [Accessed 12 Aug. 2021].

SOM. (n.d.). SOM Unveils Design Details for New Public Health Laboratory in Harlem. [online] Available at: [Accessed 12 Aug. 2021].


Ishani is an architect and a published author. She is passionate about writing and has been a part of the social sector for two years, helping underprivileged children through the power of design via interactive playgrounds. Reading books and hosting workshops are among a few of her hobbies.