Modern trends in lab design
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At the Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine, the current lab space represents a 50/50 ratio of wet to
dry space, with “flex” lab space in between the wet modules to allow for growth of either the wet or dry
programs as needed. Image: Robert Benson Photography
knowledge and idea exchange. “This has a
bearing on the design of the facility to seek
openness within lab settings and provides
zones for sharing equipment and spaces
that can foster interaction both inside and
outside the lab,” says Jones.
Clients have asked for flexible labs for
more than 10 years; and this year’s Laboratory of the Year entries show this trend
will continue. The drivers for flexible
labs have historically been the long-term
reduction of renovation costs and lab
downtime. The more flexibility built into
a lab building, the more it costs upfront.
However, this built-in flexibility offers cost
savings over time.
At the same time, lab owners are looking
for a deeper understanding of flexibility, one
based on how a program’s needs will evolve
and how buildings will adapt to them rather
than relatively straightforward modularity
and flexible services infrastructure.
Design must adapt quickly to include this
new equipment, and base building must be
more flexible to provide custom servicing
to this highly specialized equipment. “The
coordination involved in providing specialized servicing is very intensive due to the
rapid rate of technological invention, and
a greater commitment is required in lab
programming,” says Jones.
As projects are done on shorter schedules and tighter budgets, there’s more
renovation and phased work so operations
can continue while in construction. “Even
so, with renovation projects we are seeing
clients that value design ideas for clean,
modern labs that have natural light and
great spaces that attract the best researchers,” says Sara Eastman, RA, Laboratory
Planner & Architect, EwingCole. Recruitment and retention of researchers and
employees is a big concern, and whether
through new builds or renovations and fit-outs, firms must make this a focal point to
lab design in a university setting.
Companies are increasingly moving into
clusters located in urban environments
near universities, hospitals and related
science and technology companies. This
clustering approach helps attract and retain
the best and brightest recruits, as the new
generation of scientists and researchers
want to work and play in stimulating environments populated by thought leaders.
Clustering also creates the opportunity for
interaction with other centers of thinking;
offers access to interdisciplinary collaboration plus more diversity and quantity of
data; and facilitates the goals of translational medicine.
With companies moving to urban clusters, real estate costs go up. So companies
must use their lab space more efficiently.
The idea that every person has a designated
desk or lab bench seat is changing. This also
is true of academic lab settings.
As today’s science is moving at a rapid
pace, clients must plan ahead for change
from day one. Adapting spaces quickly and
easily is a must in the scientific process,
and that capacity must be designed into
all aspects of a lab. Design features, such as
removeable partitions and lab furniture and
interchangeable plug-and-play ceiling utility
systems, make adapting space easier.
Many research disciplines are seeking a
new synergy, where collaboration and inter-
action between different research groups is
promoted to foster technology transfer and
In flexibility, a dichotomy has arisen.
When it’s appropriate, labs are large and
open with as few walls as possible, which is a
great strategy as long as thought is given to
appropriate support and core facilities and
how people actually work.
As a reaction to large, open labs that have
been increasingly built over the last decade,
many clients are looking at other solutions,
such as neighborhood concepts or “
partitioned” laminated schemes, that allow
institutional flexibility, while still providing
a suitably scaled environment for research.
“With the move to comparatively more dry
research, clients are looking at renovation of
existing building stock for non-air-intensive
uses in lieu of demolition and replacement,”
says Gary Cabo, AIA, Associate Partner,
ZGF Architects LLP. Instead of planning 10
to 12 open module labs, firms are now planning five to eight open module labs. This
planning strategy still allows large enough
lab spaces to maintain flexibility, but small
enough spaces to foster collaboration.
The South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI)’s exterior blends into the urban
environment around it, becoming a focal part of the neighborhood. Image: David Sievers