Open and Closed

| December 22, 2014 | 0 Comments
by Stephanie Goldberg
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Stephanie Goldberg

At the start of the year we at LAB take a look at our work over the course of the last 12 months, and see where we are heading in the next. December, though busy, is a good time for reflection and evaluation. Recently we compared several of the laboratory/office renovations that our office has completed. The comparison was inspired by a question from a potential client who was interested in open offices. We have noticed that our work has fallen into two categories: first, the completely open office where no one, not even the CEO, has a private office; and second, the traditional mix of closed offices surrounding a core of open offices. Evaluating the spaces in terms of area per capita led to some interesting and telling results.

The laboratories that had open offices as their primary arrangement were significantly more space efficient. This was not unexpected. What we term community space, huddle rooms, conference rooms, kitchen, etc., remained relatively the same in size per person across the board, no matter what type of office arrangement was employed. However, for the open office designs, the community-to-office ratio was significantly higher. Those working in open office environments had far more access to community space than those in the more traditional environments. In these types of renovations, for every 100sf of office space there was close to 50sf of community space. The more traditional office/open office arrangement, on the other hand, was closer to 25sf of community space for each 100sf of office. The results have implications both for project size and for how companies shape themselves to recruit young scientists.
From a purely economic standpoint, an open office arrangement allows companies to use a smaller footprint and plan for flexibility and change. In the expensive and tight Cambridge market in which we do much of our work, this could be highly advantageous. Additionally, studies have shown that Millennials value social space and alternative work and meeting areas. With a wider range of community spaces available, companies can tailor shared space to suit a range of work types, attracting these younger workers. In the spirit of looking ahead to the new year, and in thinking further about how biopharmaceutical research companies use space, we ask ourselves whether we could take this a step further. Could the hotel concept be applied to this project type?
Many researchers spend significant and predictable time in the lab. By sharing office space and utilizing laptops and a work anywhere ethos, the community space could be further developed and enhanced. We have noticed that those companies that use the open space concept also use huddle rooms and other meeting spaces well, meeting as smaller teams and working collaboratively throughout the day. Could this be enhanced and made better if scientists were not tied to individual desks outside the lab? Would space utilization become even more efficient, allowing companies to use less space and expand more within their footprint rather than outgrowing space potentially very quickly as their research expands? As we look forward to the new year and to the increasingly active economy, we wonder if companies will take the leap and reevaluate the role of community space and rethink the way we work, both alone and together.
Stephanie Goldberg, AIA, LEED AP BC+D, is a principal with Lab/Life. Science. Architecture Inc.

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