Lab research facilities have been traditionally segregated into departments, and those departments are then further separated by office areas and lab space. As such, researchers and staff are often isolated and disconnected from one another. However, there are several ways to connect departments at the facility scale and individuals at the department scale by removing physical and perceived barriers to encourage actual and observational engagement.
At the facility scale, many of our pharmaceutical clients want to consolidate and collocate their research into large facilities so their innovative science can cross-pollinate among departments. These facilities can become as large as 600,000 sf or more, and departments can become isolated by the barriers of floors, walls and physical distance. Creative approaches to the building planning and shaping can alleviate these barriers.
On a recent large bio-pharm research facility project, the users had a need for numerous departments to be adjacent to one another and strong preference to eliminate any vertical isolation between the departments. A single-floor solution would have yielded a floorplate as long as nearly nine football fields long. Obviously, that wasn’t a viable solution for maintaining connectivity between the groups. A creative solution utilizing a split-level arrangement connected via an atrium space provided several benefits. By offsetting the departments by only a half level, the actual vertical separation was reduced, while the open atrium space provided direct views between the levels and observationally connected multiple floors and departments. Additionally, activating the atrium space with informal gathering areas and touchdown spaces encourages chance interactions along the way. Incorporating a passive solar design approach to these spaces also maximizes natural light to the lab and office environments. This reduces heat and energy loads by harvesting daylight and reducing the need for artificial lights at certain times of day, while increasing the quality of the research environment by providing full-spectrum light and views to the scientists.
At the department scale we are no longer providing segregated office and lab environments. The open workplace is permeating into the labs and we are blurring the lines between lab and office. This blurring of the lines allows both actual and observational engagements. We remove barriers of walls, storage and high shelving within the lab, and create collaborative zones between office and labs, as well as within the labs. The collaborative zones between offices and labs become a “front porch” to the lab along circulation paths, encouraging interaction similar to traditional neighborhood designs where porches line streets and contribute to conversations among neighbors walking down the street. These collaborative zones must be flexible in order to accommodate both formal and informal gathering with a variation of types and quality of space. The solution to the open office can’t be solely marching workstations across an open area. Private and intimate spaces must be included for different types of work.
Circulation space can become a celebratory space of interactions through direct engagement and observation as well by creating dynamic connections between levels and departments, and removing physical barriers and creating a culture of shared science. It’s the moment when the scientists lift their focus from their task and can be stimulated by the environment and the ideas of others.
The use of full-height glazing for HVAC segregations can also maintain visual connections between spaces, while allowing natural borrowed light to pass from windows in adjacent areas.
By removing barriers at the facility and departmental level, we can encourage dynamic informal and formal interactions that can become the foundation for the innovative science at the leading industry and academic research institutions.
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With an impressive career in the Life Sciences Sector, Mary Carroll brings modern environments to life for Science + Technology clients. A LEED-certified architect with 25 years of experience, Carroll’s approach to sustainability goes beyond typical “green” design elements and is more holistic. Kevin Chriswell is a Senior Project Architect and Lab Planner at CRB. Chriswell has over 17 years of experience as project architect and lab and vivarium planner for science- and technology-based buildings. Scott McNallan is the Architectural Design Lead at CRB and is an AIA award-winning architectural designer and licensed architect with over 15 years of experience designing building that push beyond the client’s expectations while exceeding their goals.