Usually the design is complete 18 to 24 months
before move-in. Planning for the future is a challenge, but an experienced architect and engineer
can help design space that’s flexible enough to
accommodate changing needs. The nature of
science is unpredictable, but the facilities that
support it are more forgiving. Current standards
in lab design include more flexible generic space,
and less customized space; but specific sciences
and organizations often need some degree of
If you are a first-time user representative, you
will need to make the best prediction possible
based on existing data. If you are selected to be a
user representative as part of a project planning
effort, here are some key tasks you’ll have to shoulder, along with several specific tips for handling
By: J. Erik Mollo-Christensen, AIA,
Tsoi/Kobus & Associates Inc.
Do you have what it takes to provide input for the design of a new building? Good researchers and good user representatives often share similar qualities.
User representatives are the primary link
between the designers and the functional
requirements of a lab project. They provide
the expertise the design team needs to shape
the general planning parameters. The best user
representatives combine the characteristics
of a good scientist with a broad and decisive
institutional view, and apply a creative and disciplined approach to the project. As a scientist,
these are the characteristics you need to be a
• Curiosity in the search for the best solutions.
• Knowledge of your lab and its physical
• Ability to think simultaneously about both
large-scale and small-scale concepts.
• Vision to see clearly and broadly the project’s and your organization’s financial, as well
as scientific goals.
• Attention to detail in both behavioral and
physical aspects of labs.
• Adaptability to new and changing conditions and working methods.
• Decisiveness to commit your group’s
future, recognize good solutions and keep the
Lab projects always include a programming and
design phase that occurs well ahead of occupancy:
UNDERSTAND THE REAL NEEDS OF YOUR
This includes everyone from the department
head to the bottle washer. Space needs, equipment
needs, shared functions and spaces, behavioral
patterns and interaction with other groups all
must be understood and considered. The best way
to understand this is to talk with everyone in your
group, and observe their daily work.
• Try sitting at someone else’s desk for a day.
• Notice where supplies and waste materials
• Count the number of outlets, utility
connections and even pieces of equipment that
have never been used in your lab.
ANTICIPATE THE FUTURE
Whatever you’re doing today, it will probably
change. Many labs exist in old space, renovated
space or space designed for earlier needs. Recent trends for more equipment, automation,
increased safety requirements and interdisciplinary work patterns aren’t always accommodated in existing labs.
If the primary reason for your building project is outgrowing your space, it’s likely people
are cramped, equipment is crowded into bench
space and the lab in general is sub-optimal
in most respects. Ask yourself the question:
“What’s the best arrangement?” If you are
planning to purchase new equipment or add
staff, think ahead by as much as five years.
• Consider how the ratio of principal investigators to staff scientists has changed during
the past five years.
• Ask your colleagues if they plan to purchase robotic or large equipment in the next
few years, or if there’s strategy in place for
• Count the number of times you visit
other groups in a typical
day, and whether their
location is convenient.
Proximity to collaborat-ing groups can impact
operations and cost.
HAVE ALL THE FACTS
It’s critical for the
design team to understand the factual data
related to your lab.
Accurate and complete
head counts, numbers of people in each
position, quantities of
supplies and chemi-How to be a great first-time user representative
Flexible casework design and ceiling-accessed utilities allow for rapid
reconfiguration of the research space at the Jackson Laboratory for Genomic
Medicine to suit shifting needs and scientific focus.
A transparent glass “membrane” between the wet and dry lab space at the Jackson Laboratory for Genomic
Medicine allows daylight to penetrate into the floorplate, and allows research teams views of their partners.
All images: Robert Benson Photography
LaboratoryDesign|JAN|FEB 2015 15