Fig. 1: Lab configuration examples.
Lab infrastructure: Degrees of flexibility
Lynn Petermann, AIA, LEED AP, Associate
Jenny Ratner, LEED AP, Design
Flexibility has become an established priority in lab design. As Herman Miller advertises their products: “Why should built-in lab casework dictate how your equipment and work
areas are arranged? Modular, movable lab furnishings from Herman Miller Healthcare put you in control. Without compromise.
Design your lab to support your staff and processes.” 84 percent of
respondents to R&D Magazine’s 2011 Reader Survey agree, saying
that they want “flexible design” in their laboratories. While there
are many reasons why flexibility is desirable, at the top of the list
is time and cost savings. The promise of flexible labs provides the
hope of avoiding expensive changes in the future. Casework manufacturers have quickly adapted to provide movable casework that
is also adjustable. In spite of these advances in casework design,
however, laboratories remain constrained by the fixed nature of
their infrastructure. Certain ventilation, utilities and lighting systems can accommodate some degree of flexible casework layouts;
nonetheless they are difficult and expensive to move. Accordingly,
lab infrastructure must be thoughtfully selected and designed to
maximize the value of flexible casework for the users and client.
Many typical infrastructural layouts do not allow users to take
advantage of movable casework. Example 1 (Fig. 1) uses a traditional
forced air system to ventilate the labs. The supply ducts are centered above the aisle to clear the space above the bench for utilities.
Utilities are accessed from point-of-use panels, which constrain each
bench to a fixed location determined by the point-of-use panels.
Instrument placement, in turn, is constrained within the length of
the bench. In this design, even if the casework is movable, the infrastructural system selection and layout constrain the lab’s flexibility.
Additionally, this layout places light fixtures between the ducts and
the utilities such that there are two rows of lights per bench. Energy
codes and desire for efficiency make this lighting approach difficult.
Example 2 (Fig. 1) also uses forced air, though in this case the
ducts are centered above the bench. In order to distribute air effectively, side diffusers are used. The utilities are also centered along
the bench, supported by the same unistrut system that supports
the ducts. This simple, layered approach to ventilation and utilities
allows lighting to be centered in the aisle, creating a more efficient
lighting layout with only one row of lights per bench, assuming
proper reflection. The utilities form a spine that can be accessed
from anywhere along the bench through the use of a simple knockout panel (see Fig. 2). This frees the bench to be located at any place
along the line of utilities. It also allows for benches to be removed
and replaced with floor-mounted instruments in the same location.
While this infrastructure supports more flexibility than Example 1,
the location of the lighting necessitates task lighting at the bench. If
a bench is removed and replaced with a floor-mounted instrument,
the lighting on the instrument might not be sufficient.
Examples 3 and 4 (Fig. 1) incorporate a more sustainable
approach to ventilation through the use of chilled beams. Their
placement is dictated by the buoyancy flow of the chilled air, and
can be centered over the aisle or over the bench. In the first chilled
beam example (Example 3 in Fig. 1), utilities are placed in a spine
along the top of the bench (fed from the sidewall). Aesthetically,
this creates a clear zone above the bench free from the clutter of