Lessons from the Lab of the Year competition

August 11, 2010

Since 1967, our sister publication R&D Magazine has hosted the Laboratory of the Year competition, in which the latest research laboratory facilities are evaluated on all aspects of lab design, construction, and planning by an expert panel of architects, lab planners, engineers, lab users, equipment suppliers, and editors. (BD&C editors have helped judge the last three competitions.)

Past winners include such notable research facilities as the Beckman Institute at the University of Illinois; Bayer High Technology Center, Building B36, West Haven, Conn.; James H. Clark Center at Stanford University; and the 2005 winner, Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research.

R&D editor-in-chief Tim Studt, who has judged every Lab of the Year competition since 1988, offers the following advice to those involved in laboratory design and construction.

Design Do's

  • Pre-plan meeting and collaboration areas to be functional, not just "made-up" spaces into which furniture is placed.

  • Ensure that fume hoods are properly designed, installed, and tested to all current standards. Employ design consultants for specialized designs.

  • Ensure that lab designs meet current standards and design protocols when the lab is completed, not just when it is designed (for long-term projects, design guidelines can change from start to finish).

  • Determine flow patterns for people, material deliveries, waste disposal, and safety egress/ingress so that they do not overlap.

  • Provide adequate setbacks for densely populated sites.

  • Use recyclable or environmentally green construction materials whenever possible.

  • Provide glazing for the task at hand. Don't provide too much external lighting for researchers doing microarray fluorescence studies, for example.

  • Involve researchers in the design stage. Obtaining input from users early on will save on redesigns and cost overruns further down the project cycle path.

  • Design in an appropriate mix of external and internal lab lighting.

  • For daylighting, determine how lighting will be provided in low-light conditions or at night.

  • Provide an adequate rationale for renovating a lab or performing major structural changes that might better be obtained by building an entirely new structure.

  • Provide an adequate balance of lab space to researcher office space. Ask the potential users what's most appropriate for their work activities.

  • Plan how future lab changes might be implemented.

  • For renovations, plan how the existing occupants will be supported during the complete renovation process.

  • Offer a balance between the external design and the lab design. Great places to work should look good and function better.

  • Provide for future increased security measures. Clients today are asking architects to add security measures that in past years would have been considered impractical or not cost effective.

  • Be creative in the external and internal structural design to integrate functional features in the design.

  • Award-winning lab designs provide a balance of great architectural design, effective construction, good landscaping, site planning, cost-effective planning, attention to detail and the users' planned work environment, and planning for future changes and modifications.

Design Don'ts

  • Do not substitute swing-arm localized exhaust systems for processes traditionally performed in a fume hood.

  • Do not design small, tight conference rooms; they're not competitive with current designs.

  • Do not perform animal testing in anything other than suitable areas, such as specifically designed surgical or necropsy suites.

  • Do not consider purchased equipment that can be placed within any laboratory room (i.e., analytical instruments, NMR suites, scanning electron microscopes, mechanical testing systems, etc.) as an asset of a new lab.

  • Do not consider flexible shielding as suitable bio-safety containment.

"What We Learned" is a new department that codifies lessons learned from designing and constructing key building types. Future installments will look at manufacturing facilities, retail, offices, convention centers, hotels, and multifamily buildings. Send suggestions to Dave Barista: dbarista@reedbusiness.com.


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