Fig. 1: In blue, flexible equipment zones allow researchers to bring in whatever equipment they need
without making permanent alterations. The overhead service carrier supplies electricity, data and gasses.
Designing plug-and-play labs for maximum adaptability
Robert J. Thomas, AIA, LEED AP BD+C
Stella P. Perico, LEED AP
Leo A Daly
With private-sector partnerships increasingly driving university and institutional priorities,
research facilities need to be flexible to
different user groups and adaptable to
changing needs. Architects in the field
are responding with laboratories that
accommodate the fast-changing world
of research and technology development
with plug-and-play labs. These flexibly
designed labs adapt to the future and
enhance collaboration, helping research
institutions, incubators and universities
reduce long-term costs and increase their
viability in the marketplace.
Over the last 10 years, Leo A Daly has
been innovating in this typology, with
recent laboratory projects completed for
the Florida Atlantic University, Scripps
Florida, Max Planck Florida Institute for
Neuroscience, Florida Gulf Coast University’s Emergent Technologies Institute
and King Fahd University of Petroleum
and Minerals in Saudi Arabia.
Here we present some of the
best-practices we’ve developed to meet
our clients’ needs.
TO FLEX OR NOT
Flexibility and adaptability in labs
have become buzzwords in discussing
the labs of the future. Renovation cost to
transform labs from one scientist or research to another can be costly. Building
flexibility into a lab environment allows
owners to offset future renovation costs.
But flexibility costs more upfront, both
in terms of infrastructure and modular
casework. Because of the added cost
and space needs of a flexible lab, it is
important to decide which labs are likely
to require renovation in the future.
According to the National Institute of
Building Sciences, biomedical research labs
and engineering labs tend to change more
over time, while teaching facilities tend to
remain fixed. Private research companies
make physical changes to an average of 25
percent of their labs each year. Academic
institutions typically change the layout of 5
to 10 percent of their labs annually. By that
math, plug-and-play may not be cost-effective for academic labs.
On the other hand, university incubator
spaces are often great candidates for plug-and-play. For small start-ups with low budgets and uncertain odds of success, plug-and-play allows them to start a research
program without a big investment, and
therefore lower risk. If a given idea doesn’t
pan out, the institution is able to quickly
redistribute the lab space to a different user.
THE LAB MODULE
The lab module is at the center of any
lab, and its proper design is critical to
flexibility in a plug-and-play environ-
ment. Because they require full coordi-
nation of all architectural and engi-
neering systems while remaining able to
change with user needs, lab modules are
often thought of as the most important
element of lab design.
Modern labs are designed on
laboratory modules ranging in
dimension from 10 ft. 6 in. to 12 ft. 6 in.,
with 10 ft. 6 in. being the most common.
This allows ADA-compliant spacing
between bench tops for two people to
work back to back, making maximum
use of a typical 30,000 gsf floor plate.
This arrangement also increases the
flexibility of the design, allowing
different lengths of run for casework,
which can be rearranged to adapt to
different workstation types and sizes
(see Fig 1).