“Today’s laboratories have to be designed to accommodate an unanticiptable future.” – David Driscoll, Principal, Parkin Architects
Laboratory design has undergone significant changes in recent years. Major breakthroughs in scientific research, combined with an escalating demand for sophisticated analytical equipment, have created new demands on the laboratory environment. It has become increasingly important to design labs that are functionally efficient and readily adaptable to inevitable changes. Laboratory environments must allow laboratory personnel to work as productively, efficiently, and safely as possible. The incorporation of a Lean workflow can be accommodated only if the lab components can be rearranged to allow the improved flow to be realized.
Here are the top trends that Parkin incorporates into its lab designs. Each of these design elements works in tandem to create a more sustainable, creative and welcoming environment for researchers and staff.
Flexibility, Adaptability and Expandability
The design of open labs, using modular, flexible bench work, is the first step in accommodating change. Fixed benches and highly serviced equipment (sinks, freezers, fume hoods, etc.) are located along the perimeter walls. The lab’s large central space contains flexible bench work; it is not fastened to the floor and is readily reconfigured to adapt to a new function or piece of equipment. Mechanical and electrical services can feed these areas using a plug-and-play system of overhead services that allow easy disconnection and reconnection.
Structure and Infrastructure
A lab structural grid must be developed based on recognized laboratory bench module sizes. The grid employs the longest free spans possible to eliminate fixed impediments. Areas with shorter spans and higher floor load capacities are located near the building core to accommodate heavy loads over the life of the building. Once the appropriate grid has been established, a matrix of horizontal and vertical service corridors is mapped onto the building’s skeleton. These service corridors are arranged to allow the management of mechanical and electrical services without interfering with the day-to-day operations of the labs. Service distribution within the labs consists of a universal matrix of ceiling-mounted plug-and-play connection hubs to serve the corresponding grid of modular benches.
Open team spaces are also integral to contemporary lab design. These may include gathering spaces where various team members can have impromptu meetings and discuss their research, or any issues being experienced.
Cafes, lounge areas, exhibition spaces and conference rooms are places where synergy among teams and team members can be fostered. These in-between spaces can seed collaboration among teams that may otherwise be siloed. Strategically placed, comfortable, collaborative spaces encourage researchers to interact and share ideas. Collaborative spaces can foster grant application ideas and maybe even scientific discoveries.
Environmental concerns are top of mind for those working in labs today since labs use more energy than traditional office spaces. Sustainable labs aim to reduce energy use, which can also reduce costs for a facility. Much of the greater use of energy was originally in response to safety concerns that required large amounts of ventilation air to be heated or cooled, filtered and humidified, and then quickly passed through the space. There are significant opportunities for improving efficiencies while meeting or exceeding health and safety standards. Sustainable design of lab environments also improves comfort and worker productivity.
Chilled beams are an excellent opportunity to use new technology to reduce air-change rates without compromising safety. Another approach at Parkin is a chemical sensor system that manages air-change rates while constantly monitoring lab air for potential risks. The ventilation rate can be significantly reduced during normal operations. If a risk is detected, after a chemical spill, for instance, the ventilation ramps up to evacuate the air and mitigate the risk. Heat wheels can be installed between the incoming air and the exhaust air to recover heat.
Transparency and natural light
Natural light and daylighting (e.g., integrating windows, skylights, and reflective surfaces) are key elements that can lower energy costs and improve occupants’ experience. Open spaces that bring natural daylight into lab spaces address several other design concerns, including energy efficiency. Controlled daylighting can also reduce energy use associated with lighting: daylight is induced deep into the building so that, when natural light levels are high enough, rows of lights are automatically switched off.
Transparency through open spaces and unobstructed views supports collaboration and productivity among and within labs. As a bonus, transparent walls not only support health and wellness for lab workers, but they also promote STEM activities by allowing the external community to see how they operate.
Natural light is the cornerstone of biophilic design, but it does not end there: in a nutshell, the biophilia effect expresses nature in design and addresses the built environment’s impact on users. This may mean providing access to vegetation or including views to the outdoor gardens and trees. This design element could also incorporate interior trees, planted spaces, and green walls, all of which contribute to a sense of well-being for occupants. Thoughtful biophilic design not only provides a calming connection to nature, plants and other natural features can absorb sound waves and provide quiet collaboration areas. Plants also absorb CO2 and produce oxygen, creating an emotional connection to biology research and contributing to productivity overall.
Maker spaces are created to foster ingenuity and innovative solutions within an open and adaptable space. They are places where innovation and new ideas are developed, where teams can brainstorm and problem-solve in creative waysꟷthey bridge the worlds between concept and solution.
Maker labs feature large, open workspaces and could be equipped with 3D printers and computer-aided design/manufacturing (CAD/CAM) machines. They may also need room for robotics or various medical imaging equipment, such as MRI scanners, CT scanners, and X-rays.
Access to amenities
This final design element addresses the needs of today’s workforce. Facilities that offer amenities such as exercise facilities and access to high-quality food courts and coffee kiosks will tend to attract younger workers and top minds. On-site childcare facilities can also increase staff productivity and reduce downtime.
Facilities that provide superior occupant well-being not only attract the best and brightest minds into their research activities, but also foster better collaboration among teams, and mitigate burnout of researchers and staff.