By Burcin Moehring and Douglas Ogurek
City Colleges of Chicago (CCC) stands among the largest community college sys- tems in the U.S. Each year, its seven campuses combine to serve over 120,000 students.
Construction is constant. Different projects.
Different architects. With such a high level of
building activity, how can the district maintain
equity at its campuses?
Such was the challenge posed to Legat
Architects for ongoing construction at CCC’s
science labs. This was in midst of the institution’s “Reinvention” initiative to ensure student
success in the classroom and the workplace.
Planners created science design standards
for biology, chemistry and physics labs. The
document, complete with survey results and
design criteria, serves as a guide to ensure that
every student, no matter what the campus,
will have an equally valuable lab experience.
THE MAKING OF LAB STANDARDS
The development of lab standards—
especially at a seven-campus institution—is complex and full of potential snags. Planners must
narrow down the lab options, while balancing
campus culture and stakeholder nuances.
At CCC, the planning team started by visiting and assessing science facilities at each campus. Lab planners, administrators and instructors discussed current research on lab furnishings and layouts. Planners then obtained staff
and faculty input. Among the strategies used
were online surveys, space requirement forms,
workshops, interviews and response charts.
ONLINE SURVEYS AND FACE-TO-FACE INTERVIEWS
When dealing with a large, multi-campus
institution, it’s difficult for programmers get input
from the many stakeholders. The online survey
helped the planning team get a strong cross-section of opinions regarding lab needs, what users
are happy with and what they dream about in
terms of equipment, furnishings and technology.
The survey asked questions about lab design
to fifty science instructors and academic sup-
port professionals. Some questions were mul-
tiple choice or rating-based, while others were
open-ended. Respondents rated four options for
current and preferred layouts. The survey also
challenged them to rank the most important fea-
tures of a lab, and describe an “optimal lab space
and the features that make it effective.”
From these queries emerged the importance
of flexibility (i.e., suitability for lecture, group
work, testing, collecting data and observ-
ing scientific phenomena) and technology
Despite the valuable input gained from
the online survey, planners still needed more
in-depth information from the instructors
whose labs were the project’s focus. A core
group of CCC leaders, along with lab planners,
participated in face-to-face interviews with
The interviews gave the programmers more
spontaneity and the ability to react based on the
cues (verbal and non-verbal) that the interviewees
gave. The planning team further explored options
that the survey revealed. And some issues that the
survey didn’t identify came to light.
One such issue involved lab capacity: While
the average number of students in a community college lab is 24, some CCC labs were up to
Where all labs are created equal:
Science lab design standards create consistency
Diagram A: In this option, one side of fixed tables is rounded for more interaction in the microbiology lab. (All
graphics: Legat Architects)
Diagram B: This layout features movable lab tables to allow flexibility and different configurations depending on
the teaching style.