casual interaction takes place intramurally or
among peers from other companies located
nearby. For startups formed in an incubator
space, this may represent the continuation of
a familiar and productive culture. As a result,
many research groups assign a greater value
per square foot to break rooms, lounges and
shared amenity spaces than in the past.
The design of a new facility will nearly
always reflect a balance of two or more of
these concerns. Experienced lab designers
understand the importance of each, and can
program a facility to create the best possible
relationship of lab to office to support.
Striking this balance is more critical for a
startup than for an established research entity. Assigning accurate values to individual
facility components can only improve ROI.
The best R&D spaces treat the lab as a
home for research, a view Svigals+Partners
encourages clients to embrace at every level.
Because of the long hours and exacting
work associated with research, it’s critical the
facility be welcoming, nurturing, healthy and
enjoyable for those who will be there most
often and longest. It’s their second home. For
these reasons, whenever possible, incorporate
comforting, natural elements like wood, daylighting, operable windows and views of (and
even access to) the outside.
This thinking dovetails neatly with the
incorporation of informal meeting areas
and breakout spaces, which also contribute
to employee enjoyment of the workplace.
Amenities for relaxation, exercise, nutrition,
brainstorming and even for play can make
for a productive, profitable lab. Startups
with longer-term goals for the first facility
might even consider including artwork integrated into the architecture. This can serve
as a point of pride and inspiration for staff,
and can even serve as a branded element for
the fledgling firm’s emerging identity.
A research startup is a daunting venture,
with every decision fraught with complexity.
The facility in which the startup conducts
business should support the efforts of
leadership and staff, rather than present unexpected obstacles and challenges. The best
path to arrival at that facility is to engage an
experienced A/E team early on and supply
them with complete information about the
startup, so they can craft an appropriate, affordable and supportive home for research.
Robert Skolozdra, AIA, LEED AP, is a
partner and lab design specialist with Svigals
+ Partners, New Haven, Conn., an integrated
architecture and art provider specializing in
research and educational facilities. Skolozdra
is an expert at creating lab environments that
are responsive to present needs and capable of
accommodating future demands.
keep construction and equipment costs within
acceptable margins. Line items with significant
cost implications include:
• Plumbing, HVAC and ventilation systems.
• Electrical (supporting heavy mechanical
• Lab benches, casework, workstations,
furnishings where work is done.
An experienced project team will offer
strategies for managing these initial costs,
negotiating and planning with other stakeholders to arrive at the best construction
approach. Generally, these upfront costs
are more reasonable the longer the startup
expects to occupy the space. If the facility
is intended as a short-term fix, the startup
should be able to help work with the broker
or developer to get financial consideration for the improvements. The owner or
developer may undertake the improvements
at their own expense, or offer the startup a
credit. Alternatively, the owner could offer a
Throughout this process, the design team
focuses on delivering a facility that supports
breakthrough science. Considerations of
how the space will be used drive facility
selection, and later drive the programming
and furnishing choices for the fit-out. The
startup’s concerns for the space will certainly
include functionality: Benches, casework and
equipment must be organized harmoniously
and ergonomically if possible, to support the
exacting work of research and the long hours
that PIs and their teams keep.
But the startup may need more than
a highly functional lab. They may need a
showplace, creating an impressive image of the
science and the startup firm for visitors. Also,
many in the research sciences are discovering
the importance of community: An atmo-
sphere conducive to informal collaboration
is credited with accelerating breakthrough
research. This is true, by the way, whether the
likely that a startup will begin by renting
a facility, thorough exploration of a firm’s
needs and objectives could reveal advantages
to purchasing a facility instead, especially
if long-term objectives and strategies are
An integrated planning phase of this kind
can assist in weighting major criteria, such
as size and infrastructure needs. The process
can also help determine how much emphasis to place on availability of shared support
facilities or conference rooms, which some
properties offer. It can help steer the startup
into a space that suits assumptions regarding future flexibility, growth or new uses.
The startup firm should also consider the
new facility’s location and milieu. The business model may benefit from proximity to
suppliers or partner companies, for instance.
Surrounding universities and research centers may be desirable as pools of recruitable
talent, or they may indicate proximity to
better resources and grant-funded research.
Notably, some startups are involved with
university research programs. For example,
the CEO for one startup firm held a position as head researcher at the university. In
an instance like this, proximity to the new
facility may be essential.
THE DESIGN PROCESS
Once a location has been proposed, it
must be properly assessed for the design
process to begin. For example, leadership
must consider sustainability and energy
efficiency, with complete information on
the building systems provided by the developer or broker. This is essential not only
for environmental impact, but also for the
health of the site’s future occupants—the
startup’s staff—and for keeping operational
costs within acceptable parameters.
Likewise, the startup must consider resiliency. With success hinging on scientific research
processes, there must be adequate redundant
systems to protect the site and research from
the effects of power loss or flooding associated
with severe weather and other natural occurrences. A major challenge at this stage is to
Startups that need to impress VIPs may decide to invest in an elegant reception area. Some office buildings like 300 George St. (New Haven, Conn.) have sufficient infrastructure to support research while facilitating positive impact on visitors. Image: Woodruff & Brown, courtesy Svigals+Partners.