by Christopher Ladd
The novel coronavirus pandemic has triggered an urgent need for medical research, manufacturing, and advanced facilities, which has inspired unprecedented growth in the life science industry. This year, we continue to see more businesses seek to convert conventional commercial space into laboratories and R&D facilities. Although many components of lab design will always be specific to a client’s needs, good lab design is currently trending towards certain common objectives. Here are some trends in lab design for 2021.
The pandemic has caused heightened concern for employee safety in various work environments. Previously, facility managers focused on preventing cross-contamination between product and personnel by controlling air quality in labs. More recently, facility managers have expanded this focus to include adjacent office, administrative, and communal spaces. The implementation of advanced air filtration systems and environmental controls improves air quality, minimizes potential contamination, and ensures the safety of all employees.
As remote work has become more of the norm for many job types, the space required for
offices has decreased. As a result, facility managers and developers are converting vacant
or underutilized office space into lab and support spaces.
Collaborative Team Spaces
Formal project rooms, conference areas, and demo spaces are becoming integral parts of lab facilities, especially when scrum seating and casual meeting spaces are being reduced. These areas encourage creative collaboration while facilitating the development of groundbreaking research and products.
Flexibility and Adaptability
The pandemic has highlighted how quickly priorities can shift. While R&D labs are getting larger, architects are also designing them to be more adaptable with moveable benches, modular furniture and equipment, and ceiling utility panels. Similarly, they are more open to allow researchers to work alone or in teams. The result is more efficient and flexible lab space that can be easily reconfigured as priorities change.
New Programming Needs
The AEC industry is seeing an increased need for larger cold storage and cold chain management solutions. The raw materials needed for vaccine development often need to be stored at highly-regulated low temperatures. Many labs require cold rooms to accommodate the receiving of raw materials and purposefully designed solutions for the shipping of finished goods.
Facility managers are also seeking solutions for chemical and specialty gas distribution and storage that will limit the amount of costly Hazard Use Group requirements within a facility. Finally, developers continue to build lab hoteling facilities equipped for different types of research as well as lab-ready spaces that have sufficient power, cooling, and redundancy for a lab conversion. Speculative lab development has become less prominent.
Sustainability has been trending for many years, with many facility managers trying to reduce their carbon footprint by using an adaptive reuse strategy to repurpose existing buildings and spaces. They are also considering alternative energy sources, such as solar power and energy recovery systems. To reduce energy consumption, engineering systems are being designed to include built-in redundancies, occupancy sensors, and elaborate utility control systems for labs and buildings.
While many of the trends for lab design in 2021 are a reaction to the ongoing pandemic crisis, we anticipate that they are here to stay. Lab design and architecture will continue to evolve to protect the safety of all users, to allow for increased adaptability as programming and priorities shift, and to promote sustainability.
Christopher Ladd, AIA, NCARB is vice president/managing principal, science & technology at Ci Design, Inc.