Editor’s Note: This post is condensed from an article co-authored by Alinea, NBBJ and Arup and originally published in Building magazine.
By 2023, experts anticipate the UK economy will create an additional 142,000 new jobs in science, research and engineering. The way scientists work is changing, and so must their environments. Here are some of the key drivers affecting life science spaces today:
- Attracting talent
While the UK’s demand for highly skilled researchers, technologists, scientists and engineers is growing, the talent supply is falling short: the Open University found 91% of organisations struggled to find skilled talent in the last 12 months.
- High workspace expectations
More than one-third of knowledge-based workers work outside a traditional office setting, and the design of academic and science workplaces goes beyond just offices and laboratories: these spaces must support collaboration and focus as well as embody the vision, values and culture of the research organisation. Workspace expectations are also high in relation to the health and wellbeing agenda.
- Advanced technology and processes
Due to increasing technological support, in the last 10 years laboratory designs have shifted away from the traditional wet lab with separate office, to include a larger proportion of dry lab spaces and engagement areas.
- Highly optimised and efficient buildings
Some organisations now lean towards shared spaces and equipment, in which lab benches are booked rather than assigned permanently, lab concierges designate space and arrange ‘just-in-time’ apparatus deliveries, and scientists and specialist technicians pool their complex analytical equipment.
- Future flexibility
Despite ongoing demand for highly specialised spaces, research facility design can be based on generic, flexible configurations to allow a wide range of multidisciplinary scientific activities. The most successful future-proofed environments provide long-term adaptability without overdesigning and overspending.
The trends and themes described above have specific implications on the design of lab spaces, as designers rise to the challenge of meeting the future needs of the fast-growing and constantly evolving science sector:
- Facade design may need to respond to the increasing desire for ‘science on show’ while fulfilling high-building performance requirements.
- Adjacencies of different relevant functions must be captured, connectivity provided and the ‘chance encounter’ encouraged.
- A sustainable and flexible approach to soft and hard facilities management should be adopted within the design approach.
- Flexible space will offer the potential for future adaptation and allow users to flex between wet and dry lab space.
- Testing the layouts for potential usage options at an early stage allows the team to make a considered provision for central plant, with strategies for locally flexing the provision as usage changes over time. Overprovision of services does not benefit the scheme economically or strategically, adversely affecting floor heights, plant sizes and capital cost.
- The location of plant needs careful consideration to accommodate vibration-sensitive equipment often associated with life science research. Early identification of zones where low vibration can be safeguarded helps define equipment zones, support spaces and influences plant locations. Providing sufficient distance between fume extract requirements and intake locations adds further constraints.
- Structural solutions need to respond to floor-loading requirements to keep the building’s use flexible over its lifespan and to meet localised vibration criteria requirements. Structural layouts should be developed to set a rational grid that responds to design efficiencies, while at the same time creating ‘swing space’ for laboratory or office planning modules.
As the volume of research accelerates, so too is the increasing pressure to monitor operational costs associated with running these highly serviced and complex environments. Designing alongside specialists and users helps building designers improve functionality, increase efficiencies and create more sustainable buildings.
The design process itself can be made increasingly efficient by using a data-driven approach. Smart tools are allowing designers to determine the ideal spatial relationships at the onset of the design process. Design computation allows clients, designers and consultants to explore numerous variables simultaneously — and to review the impact on space requirements and costs in real-time.
These tools, combined with the closer integration of architecture with structural and building services design, are challenging traditional laboratory design concepts, allowing teams to create more efficient buildings that add value while minimising capital and operational cost expenditure. As with any building project, understanding and developing the brief with the client leads to improved and successful long-term outcomes.
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