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Monday, April 13, 2009

How Exactly Do the Lab’s Buildings Get Their Numbers?

By Lyn Hunter

bldg numberAsk any new employee or visitor what it’s like to find their way around Berkeley Lab and you’re likely to hear the words “challenging” or “confusing.” Part of the reason is the seeming randomness of the building numbers.

“Most people are accustomed to the street address system, where adjacent houses or buildings have numbers that are close together,” says Laura Chen, a planner with the Lab’s Facilities Division. “But here, nothing seems to make sense…you have Building 69 on the east side of the Lab, 70 on the south side, and 71 all the way over on the north side.”

When possible, Chen and her colleagues try to assign new buildings numbers that are close to their neighbors. For example, the Molecular Foundry is Building 67, which is right next to 66. But there are constraints that prevent this from happening every time.

The system started somewhat logically in the early 1940s with the original site, known as “Old Town.” The buildings in this area were assigned chronological numbers, explains Chen, but as the Lab site grew and old buildings were torn down, irregularity crept in.

“We can’t re-use building numbers that were already assigned, so when some of the original structures were starting to be demolished, the new buildings on that site often acquired a number that was out of sequence,” says Chen. “Also, we have been trying to keep the numbers used for buildings on the Hill under 100, so that means we have to work with whatever digits are left after 78 years.”

And the seemingly haphazard trend continues with the Lab’s newest additions. The Guest House will be 23, right next to Building 2, and the User Support Building will be 15, the perfect complement to its Building 80 neighbor.

“This is a system that we inherited by word-of-mouth over the years, nothing was ever written down,” says Chen. “We need to come up with something more logical in the future, but I can only imagine how confusing that would be for our veteran employees!”