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Today’s university lab building by the numbers

A three-month study of science facilities conducted by Shepley Bulfinch reveals key findings related to space allocation, size, and cost. 

August 03, 2017 |
Shepley Bulfinch Blog

Shepley Bulfinch undertook a three-month-long study where we examined science facilities from over a 100 colleges and universities across the country. We gathered data that details departmental usage, building efficiency, and other key metrics that drive the design of science buildings. In particular, we tracked usage related to interdisciplinary research and STEM trends across higher education.

Key insights included:

Buildings are 37% larger while undergoing a 15% reduction in square footage per department.

There has been a 260% increase in the space allotted to dry labs. This dramatic increase represents new types of research driven by technology that does not require hoods and benches, including computational biology, computer science, and robotics.

Increased cost represents the increasingly complex nature of combining multiple typologies (wet and dry) in one building and increased construction costs due to skilled labor shortages. It could also represent higher performance buildings focused on faculty retention and recruitment.

On average, planning efficiency remains about the same, as elements in building GSF (structure, bathrooms, circulation) cannot get smaller. Overall GSF has increased as institutions are building larger buildings to house multiple departments, as opposed designating one building per department.



These are the most high-level insights, but the data we have collected allows for more detailed queries. For more on the study findings, feel free to email me at

About the author:
Luke Voiland, AIA, is a Principal at Shepley Bulfinch and a leader in the planning and design of innovative learning environments.

Shepley Bulfinch Blog | Shepley Bulfinch
Shepley Bulfinch

Shepley Bulfinch is a national architecture firm known for design excellence and innovation. With offices in Boston, Houston, and Phoenix, the firm provides architecture, planning, and interior design solutions for leading institutions in academics and healthcare, as well as urban development and civic organizations. Practicing design that is an elegant synthesis of aesthetic, physical, and cultural influences, Shepley Bulfinch strives to advance design by sparking a dialogue with clients who are leading change in the built environment. For more information, please visit or follow us on Twitter at @ShepleyBulfinch.

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