Developing lab space with the future in mind


by Binh Vinh and Lois Rosenblum

With the research, development and manufacturing world changing so rapidly, there's no guarantee that facility requirements and space needs will be the same from year to year

How do you set yourself up for success when planning a new building, laboratory retrofit or renovation? There are steps that an organization, its scientists and the design team can take to ensure that any new facility or addition is designed to best contribute to the company's longevity and users' productivity and respond to the fluctuating requirements of a multi-disciplinary research organization.

The success of a project springs from early groundwork that starts long before actual design work begins. It is fundamental from a project's earliest stage for executives, facility users and building planners and designers to discuss and understand the company's objectives and goals. This helps make certain that the project outcome is best suited to meet organizational needs.

Setting business objectives
The first order of business is to understand the organization's business objectives—its global, big-picture vision and philosophy. For instance, what anchors the sense of identity? Why does the business exist? What's the company's vision? What's the company's philosophy toward employees, environment, competition, recruitment, as well as the corporate view of the future business climate?

While these are broad questions that can only be answered by top leadership, the many project constituencies including administrators, facilities managers, maintenance personnel and end users, as well as the design team, are brought together through these unifying precepts. The information gathered at this introductory meeting provides the guiding light for the project and provides a platform upon which the team bases a set of project goals.

Establishing project goals
Discussion of project goals begins with the mission of the new project. The first step is to identify and understand the reasons why the client has decided to pursue a new project. We have found that for research clients a new project generally stems from a desire to capitalize on previous successes.

Click here to enlarge image

At this stage, the facility's technical requirements are outlined: size, budget, schedule, requirements for operations, adjacencies, functional needs, human resource and recruitment requirements, technology needs and safety and security issues. Other factors such as future expansion needs, communication, interaction, collaboration, flexibility, and expandability are also discussed. Issues such as number of laboratories, class of cleanrooms, location of support spaces, and facility size are studied in depth. Options are presented to the owners and users, decisions are made, and a detailed report is compiled.

Click here to enlarge image

Equally important in project goal discussions are the soft issues: image enhancement, staff creativity and productivity and quality of the spaces. Many times, companies focus on the measurable goals, tangible components like size, money and schedule. But indeed the intangible qualities—human issues, intellectual aspects, human interaction and collaboration, quality of the environment—although difficult to measure, make a facility vital and alive.

For example, at the Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine, they call this stage, “Pre-planning and Navigation.” During a recent new project launch, this navigation exercise proved to be very revealing.

(Above Right) The Glaxo Smith Kline, R&D Headquarters Campus, Research Triangle, N.C., design by Binh Vinh while with Kling Lindquist. (Above) Early masterplan of the Jackson Laboratory, Bar Harbor, ME, shows color-coded building outline as tool for understanding current usage and expansion possibilities (Above Left) This aerial drawing illustrates the “snowflake” concept organizing over 3,000 employees in more than two million square feet, facilitating interaction and communication.
Click here to enlarge image

When the team of administrators, scientists and designers got together to discuss goals and objectives for its proposed East Research Building, they realized there were several areas of importance that fell outside the scope of the building. These areas included food service, underutilized courtyard space, the public face of the laboratory represented by a central lobby, and connectivity of researchers. After all the goals were assembled, it was clear that a master planning exercise was needed to ensure that projects were given the proper priorities and that whatever was planned in the near future would be in concert with the direction of the laboratory over the next few decades.

It was also clear that the new East Research Building could have a farther-reaching, campus-wide impact than originally anticipated and the right planning now would benefit the future.

When moving forward, project goals function as a “bible” laid out for the entire team to follow, basing and establishing the design goals on these agreed upon criteria. Critical to the establishment of this guide is the very important process of bringing the project team together in consensus.

Team building
The idea behind bringing the project team together is to create synergy and “buy in.” Team members must function as one and must come together with a shared sense of goal and objective regarding the project. At a research institute, for example, the team might include top administrators responsible for the institute's vision, financiers who mind the money, development staff involved in philanthropic fundraising, grants people who identify, devise and implement grant strategies, facilities staff and representative scientists who will work in the new building.

Team-building sessions are absolutely necessary to bring together these individuals with various agendas to form an energized, cohesive and creative body. Having these sessions take place outside of the daily working environment often enhances team building, inviting open mindedness, interaction and creativity.

Goals identified by this point are presented and everyone is encouraged to further contribute aspirations for the project. This creates fusion, understanding and bonding among team members while lines of communication are identified. The team bases their discussions on project goals, development of design ideas and incorporation of those ideas into the design goals. The ensuing discussions allow for “buy in” of company and personal goals into design goals. A useful ensuing tool is a project team matrix that outlines stakeholders, their charters and individual responsibilities as a reference for decision-making and team relations.

The job of a design professional is to facilitate and integrate this diversity of views, thereby bringing order to what might initially appear to be chaos. Ideas can be grouped and prioritized, then gradually built into articulated design goals. The team member remains active during the entire process, thereby reinforcing the feeling of cohesiveness and unity.

Formulizing a work plan
After the project team is in place, it's time to formalize a work plan that outlines tasks, milestones, schedules, communication lines, regular review schedule, roles and responsibilities. The work plan must be clear regarding the roles and responsibilities of each member and how those roles interact and are “in process” with each other.

For the new East Research Building at the Jackson Laboratory, a “master project action plan” was compiled outlining a schedule and work plan for the new building as well as all associated collateral projects and their implications. The plan calls out hard dates for key decisions to be made in order to keep things moving forward. This matrix provides a consolidated, relational outline for a multi-phased, long-term effort. In addition, a mini-action plan is distributed each Monday to all those involved in the project that calls out that week's meetings and deadlines so that all constituencies are informed and prepared.

Measurable goals developed from the teaming meetings and work plan set forth the shape and form of the project; in short, what it's going to look like. We are also able to set budget requirements beside dreams. This way, everyone—executives, managers, financiers, architects, engineers, facility operators and end users—knows what is possible within the appropriate boundaries and the quantity/quality issues. They feel that they've had a hand in prioritizing and finalizing the decisions. Now we can move to setting specific project-related criteria

Establishing criteria
Before design can begin, the design team will need clearly defined and detailed requirements for each space and function. The team analyzes the design goals to establish hard and soft criteria. Criterion includes program requirements, which are a set of spatial, organizational, functional and operational requirements. Spaces are defined in terms of architectural and engineering requirements. It must also include soft criteria that satisfy the “soft” goals. This process leads to a “statement of criteria,” which once approved by clients and users, becomes the absolute requirement to which the design responds.

Some of the most unsuccessful building projects point to non-team related approaches to establishing the project criteria. For example, at a new R&D facility in Connecticut, the design team was isolated from the user groups and was provided the program, without discussion, by the company's top brass and building management group. In this case, it proved counter productive. While the building is aesthetically pleasing, the functionalities are flawed and the users do not have spaces that best fit their use in terms of adjacencies and hood/bench/support requirements.

Using benchmarks
During project planning, comparisons to standards and trends within the industry provide an overview of how things were done elsewhere. Through the use of photographs, floor plans and discussions, the team can share what they liked or disliked about projects seen elsewhere. It is particularly useful at this point to arrange tours of peer institutions. We have found that scientists have friends and colleagues in other institutions and that they talk among themselves about their workspace. Follow-up discussions are held to refine and modify criteria.

A useful springboard for talking about project criteria is to visit and discuss similar buildings belonging to the same organization or at peer institutions. What is good or bad about the building? What features should be included in the new facility? What features should change? Other details to be discussed include adjacencies, typical and maximum space allocations, security, bench requirements, storage space and location, sink requirements, plumbing and electrical service, type of cleanrooms, clean/dirty protocols, fume hoods needs and telephone/data requirements.

These discussions support the creation of a chart of square footage allocations for different functions such as labs, support areas including cleanrooms, equipment rooms, instrument rooms, tissue culture rooms, offices for principal investigators and post-docs, conference spaces, break-out spaces and building support areas.

These tours allow clients to see in a very immediate way what other institutions are doing and how they like or don't like various approaches to common issues. It also provides an opportunity for the designers to see clients' unfiltered responses to different solutions. Pictures or floor plans of other facilities are also used as benchmarking tools. Follow up discussions are then held to refine and modify criteria.

Collaboration and interaction
Criteria must respond to other concerns that are common to the research community, such as collaborative research in an interactive environment. New breakthroughs very often result from the fusion of divergent ideas that must be brought together by scientists and engineers whose backgrounds and core interests contribute to a collaborative enterprise. Interaction by scientists and engineers across disciplinary boundaries can certainly be encouraged by departmental and/or organizational structures, and often, by the design of buildings.

Contemporary discoveries occur on the boundary between disciplines as well as across disciplines. The vitality of exchange is integral to scientific progress and discovery. Current national research agendas call for multi-disciplines to interact in order to successfully address problems. Environmental research, biotechnology and nanotechnology embrace many disciplines. This new paradigm translates into the criteria of unified centers of science and engineering. Buildings, or groups of buildings, will be planned and designed to enable cross-disciplinary research.

Facilities should support the discovery, transformation and dissemination of new knowledge and reflect the flexible, adaptive, multi-disciplinary character of a modern technical research environment. Buildings can indeed promote interaction among their scientific and research staff by providing barrier-free, interconnected, interlinked buildings and formal and informal interaction opportunities between different disciplines. We have found that “open” labs, clusters of principal investigator offices, shared support spaces, and breakout/lounge spaces, for example, foster staff communication and interaction.

For example, Glaxo Smith Kline R&D campus in Research Triangle Park, NC, was planned and designed based on the overriding criteria of interaction and collaborative research. The master plan took the shape of a snowflake, with all buildings interconnected around a common courtyard. The connectors between buildings become interaction “nodes,” where all necessary common functions such as meeting rooms, shared administrative support and break-out spaces are clustered to increase chance meetings and interaction for idea exchange and problem solving among personnel.

Infusing flexibility
Another common concern in building new laboratory space is planning for flexibility. The one thing that is certain about science is that it is ever changing; therefore, many people approaching a new project want their facilities to be flexible. Labs need the ability to expand and contract with the changing needs of research groups and the marketplace. Labs need to be easily convertible to accommodate changes in technology, function and research direction. And finally, labs need easy adaptability to allow for adjustment for individual preferences.

Two approaches provide flexibility. The high-cost approach incorporates a high degree of space or system redundancy, such as providing service infrastructure everywhere, and providing dual and back-up core equipment. The low-cost approach is to strategically plan for flexibility by incorporating generic and modular planning components and zoning of wet, dry and fixed functions.

For example, flexible laboratories designed for Allied Signal employ a fully modular system of partitions and benches that run along a fixed spine containing all necessary utility feeds. Lab configurations can be altered fairly easily and provide a great deal of flexibility for rapidly changing user groups.

Flexibility can also be interpreted by shared use of common, central office and interdisciplinary lab areas that maximize usage and flexibility. Core space for support of research in areas such as bio-informatics and engenomics can be combined and facilities for X-ray, microphobe, atomic absorption and gas chromatography can be shared.

Humanizing environments
We should think of research activity as thinking, experimenting, collaborating and interacting. Appropriate spaces designed for these activities are essential for the success of the facility. For instance, for scientists who spend a lot of time in their labs, adequate bench and hood facilities, utilities and equipment are essential.

A humanized environment enables scientists to work in an optimal manner. Good design provides daylight, outside views, acoustical control, environmental comfort and a sense of nesting for labs and offices. Design sensitivity allows for an environment that not only provides for the needs of research but also provides for the human needs of researchers.

3-D visual aids
During the design of a project, many visualization tools are employed so that the team can gain a thorough understanding of the proposed environment and can make the right decisions.

This 3-D modeling exercise allows clients to see in an immediate way how each criterion impacts the space, and how they like or don't like various solutions. Sometimes these 3-D models are still too abstract to fully explain the concept design and other more tangible means are employed.

For Aventis' Drug Innovation and Approval Facility, full-scale mock-ups were built of lab modules and offices. Cardboard cutouts constructed to scale allowed the users to see what the new spaces would look like. More importantly, they were able to simulate working in the space in order to spot any potential pitfalls that could easily be corrected at this stage.

These experiences allow a solid, common base of understanding and consensus regarding what the new facility should include and how it will really work.

Balancing criteria vs. cost
It is important to develop a cost model to compare the scope of work that has thus far been defined and the available budget. Design professionals, with their database of previous project costs, should be able to provide a benchmarked cost model based on the program and criteria. Necessary adjustments can be made to achieve a balance between needs, wants and affordability.

Both Glaxo Smith Kline R&D facilities in Research Triangle Park, NC, and Stevenage, UK, employed a rigorous cost and schedule control system. The cost models that were developed at the conceptual phase were updated at every project milestone until the final bid. Cost played an important role in monitoring and controlling and ultimately helped keep project costs on target. As a result, both facilities were completed on time and under budget.

This planning-focused, responsive, interactive approach will lead to a successful project that reacts well to organizational, functional, human, business and technological needs. It will also provide an environment that the user feels comfortable working in because they helped establish the criteria.

Binh Vinh, AIA and Lois Rosenblum, AIA, are Principals/Corporate, Science and Technology Group at Einhorn Yaffee Prescott Architecture and Engineering, P.C.


Easily post a comment below using your Linkedin, Twitter, Google or Facebook account. Comments won't automatically be posted to your social media accounts unless you select to share.